June 22, 2018 at 10:15am
Dane Lisser

Millikin students build web application for local apprenticeship program

For more than two decades, Homework Hangout Club, Inc. in Decatur, Ill., has impacted the local community by providing employment, skills, training, education, financial literacy, leadership and confidence to low income youth, young adults and families. The facility houses a pre-apprenticeship program for adults and offers training through construction trades, including plumbing, electrical and painting.

Founded in 1991, Homework Hangout was first known for its after-school programming, providing a supportive experience for children with tutoring, arts and crafts, cultural and physical activities. The nonprofit organization has grown to becoming central Illinois' transformation station that serves more than 350 people each year.

Millikin Information Systems

Recently, Homework Hangout has been exploring new ways to track participant data within the organization, among other items. Their current system of tracking involves using a paper and pen method, and Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.

To find a better solution, Homework Hangout reached out to RJ Podeschi, assistant professor of information systems at Millikin University, for assistance. Podeschi used the project as a Performance Learning opportunity for students in his course entitled Database Application Development.

The course focuses on the database approach to information resources and application development. For their capstone project, the students were tasked with building a database application for Homework Hangout to collect and report data. The new database application would also play a role in helping Homework Hangout with future American Apprenticeship Initiative funding.

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"Hopefully this is the first step in helping Homework Hangout report the data that they need for the U.S. Department of Labor and other programs," said Podeschi.

During the spring semester, the students worked on building a web application using Oracle Application Express, a web-based software designed to develop and deploy responsive, database-driven applications. The software allows users to enter and edit participant data, contact log data, manage checklist items with completion dates and track trade competencies as participants move throughout the program.

Additionally, Oracle Express reports are designed to better understand and manage the population of participants.

Millikin Information Systems

Recent Millikin graduate Moses McConnell, an information systems major from Peoria, Ill., spent the past academic year interning with Homework Hangout and played the role of liaison for the organization and class during the application development process.

"One of the things we have been working on is the American Apprenticeship Initiative and Homework Hangout was in need of a database that would track and record participants," McConnell said. "This new application will have a lot more organized data that will all be in one place, making it easy to insert data and provide more informative reports."

Much of the focus during the application development process was geared toward the American Apprenticeship Initiative, which provides grants to businesses to help expand registered apprenticeship in the United States. The initiative addresses talent shortages with new employee training and education in non-traditional ways.

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The students presented their work to Homework Hangout representatives Linda Dillon and Kevin Anderson on May 17 at the University Commons on Millikin's campus.

"Our main priorities when building the database was participant data, contact data and type, participant and trade competencies, and participant review data," said recent graduate Nate Frederick, an information systems major from Naperville, Ill.

Millikin Information Systems

During their presentation, the students broke down the different sections of the application and provided a demonstration on how it could be used, including how to import data and how to add a participant.

"Within the contact log, we can keep track of how many times a participant was contacted, what method was used and if it was successful," said recent graduate Lauren Bartel, a mathematics major from Bloomington, Ill. "For the application selection, we chose Oracle Express because of its use with the Cloud, which is likely to be more secure than an application built from scratch. As businesses grow, more data will be needed to collect that information. With Oracle Express, it will grow as more data is collected."

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In retrospective, the students provided their thoughts on what they learned during the project.

"The biggest thing I've learned is the client-worker relationship and the fact that we are making a big difference," said Ryan Sikora, a senior mathematics actuarial science major from Hickory Hills, Ill. "I enjoyed the interaction with the company and knowing that we were going to work on something different each day."

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Linda Dillon of Homework Hangout was impressed with the presentation and application.

"For me to say that I appreciate it is an understatement. Everything that the students showed is what we have had to produce using paper," Dillon said. "The application is tremendous. We potentially might add six more registered apprenticeship programs, which means that our data could double in the future. We value the students and RJ (Podeschi) for their work."  

A small group of Millikin students will be continuing their work on the application over the summer with the hope of launching the program in the fall.