LiveBIG Staff, August 8, 2014

Students at Indiana University are building their technology skills while helping improve their school?s community, thanks to an innovative program called Serve IT.

ServeITFounded in 2011, Serve IT has a dual mission: Prepare students for their careers and help meet the technology needs of non-profit organizations in the Bloomington, Ind., area - free of charge. In just a few years, the program has provided hundreds of IU students with unique, real-world learning experiences.

Serve IT provides its nonprofit clients with a wide range of services. Students have developed Web sites, built databases, provided tech support and training, offered guidance on purchasing new equipment, and helped organizations define and implement a social media presence.

?We put together teams of students who then address the technology needs of some of the nonprofits in the Bloomington community,? said Matt Hottell, director of Serve IT and a senior lecturer at Indiana University. ?Basically anything you would get from a real [technology] consulting firm, we're able to do.

?[The students] are going to experience the same snafus as in the real consulting world, so when a project starts going wrong, students have to figure that out,? he added. ?Obviously, we?re there to help them, but they've got to face these challenges and deadlines, just as they would in the real world. Client issues can come up, where clients didn't really know what they wanted, or changed the scope of a project, or just weren't very responsive. The students are really learning to deal with those issues early on.?

A recent example of how Serve IT fulfills its mission was demonstrated in the work a student team performed for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Bloomington. That organization had some serious issues with its computer lab: Seventeen computers were not truly networked, nor initially set up properly. The kids who belonged to the Clubs would log on, the computers would get a virus, and they wouldn't be able save their work.

A group of IU computer science and informatics students was assigned to the client. They added administrative controls, set up the lab on a domain so it worked with a server, and implemented and managed all the policies for the computers.

?Now when someone logs on to one of those computers, their work is stored on a server, not on a local machine,? Hottel said. ?Our team also set up a network filter so that kids can?t visit questionable Web sites.?

Additionally, when the student team found out that the Boys and Girls Clubs didn't have a Web site and parents couldn?t find a place to send their children after school or in the summer, ?Serve IT went in and designed a new Web site from scratch for them and implemented it in one semester,? Hottel said.

Projects like these help start students down a road of career success and service, he added.

?It's a service-learning program,? Hottell said. ?We really want the students to reflect on the work that they're doing. It's just incredible the kinds of things the students say that they learn.?

By Betsy Piland