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Computer science and business students team up to provide real-world solutions to local charity

When Mercer Street Friends, a Trenton-based human service agency, needed to upgrade their information systems they found help in a friendly collaboration with TCNJ.

A semester-long project co-created by computer science professor Monisha Pulimood and business professor Kevin Michels tasked students with designing applications that would streamline Mercer Street Friends’ information systems used to keep track of volunteers, donations, and families in the community who benefit from their programs. Project topics were the result of a meeting between students and the executive leadership team of Mercer Street Friends at the beginning of the semester.

“The students work on a real problem instead of something out of a textbook,” says Pulimood, “and Mercer Street Friends gets the solutions.”

At Mercer Street Friends HQ, students worked in teams to craft solutions to streamline the food bank’s operations.

The students, who were divided into 10 teams that each addressed a different issue, presented their designs to Mercer Street Friends executive director Armstead Johnson.

“It’s a different way of looking at things,” Johnson says. “As a nonprofit, we couldn’t afford to bring in the consultants to do just what the students have done at this level.”

The teams moved through their PowerPoint presentations with confidence, professionalism, and palpable enthusiasm.

Adham Elbaz ’19, a computer science major, was particularly moved by his experience with the project. His team created an application that streamlined the ticketing and scheduling process for Mercer Street Friends’ maintenance manager.

“Working with, visiting, and learning directly from Mercer Street Friends has broadened my horizons and perspectives, and sparked my interest in the technologies that can positively impact the communities we work and live in,” he says.

Juliet Job ’19, another computer science major, was similarly impacted. Her team simplified and streamlined a process by which program beneficiaries could learn about and sign up for events.

“Before this project, I thought that performing community service was about spending time at a soup kitchen or participating in a nature preserve trash pickup event,” said Job. “Working with Mercer Street Friends has made me realize I can use my computing skills to help make a difference in the community.”

Another benefit to the collaboration, was the close mentorship from professors and access to research that the students received.

“The assistance from Dr. Michels and Dr. Pulimood made this project come to life,” Elbaz says. “They made a complex project into a lesson in real world applications, innovation, and community engaged learning.”


—Steve Neumann

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