University News

Students Engage in Meaningful Project and Learn with a Purpose

Published: June 12, 2023 | Categories: Arts and Sciences, All News
Student's final recommendations presentation to BEAR Market Necessities

Western New England University (WNE) is pleased to announce an innovative collaboration developed by faculty members, Professor Heidi Ellis and Professor Heather Brennan, along with their classes of students from the Department of Computer Science and Information Technology. The purpose of this initiative was to bolster the operations of the BEAR Necessities Market, a vital resource on the WNE campus that supports students facing food insecurities.

"The BEAR Necessities market is a valuable resource on the WNE campus, offering a lifeline to students facing food insecurities," said Director of Cultural Education & Inclusion, Kolu Sharpe. "The BEAR Necessities market takes immense pride in delivering a seamless, supportive, and welcoming experience to students seeking assistance. Embracing the principles of anonymity, it creates a safe space where students can freely access this vital resource without any apprehension,"

Donations of food, toiletries, and gift cards to purchase groceries are regularly received from various sources, including the University community and the WNE Parent's Association. In addition, a collaboration with Aramark, the University's catering service, ensures a consistent supply of fresh produce.

Recognizing the importance of this resource, Ellis and Brennan combined to utilize a senior-level Capstone course and an Honors course for non-majors to analyze the data and logistics of the BEAR Necessities Market. The students undertook an in-depth examination of the market's operations, generating comprehensive reports that track usage patterns and identified areas for improvement.

"Students gain real-world computing experience by contributing to a professional project while being motivated by 'doing good' and contributing back to the WNE community," said Professor Ellis. "Interacting with Kolu Sharpe and understanding the benefits that the BEAR Necessities Market brings to campus is the highlight of the semester for students. They are immensely motivated by the knowledge that they can have positive impact on the WNE community."

The effort arose as part of an NSF-funded project to investigate student learning in Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software (HFOSS) projects. This research effort originated in 2006 and now includes 13 team members from five academic institutions (WNE, Drexel University, Worcester State University, Nassau Community College, and Dickinson College). The research has been awarded $4.39M in funding. Supporting the BEAR Necessities Market is part of the LibreFoodPantry Project that is developing software for food pantries at WNE, Worcester State University, Nassau Community College, and Seattle City University.

To showcase their findings, the students presented their results during a "final exam" event, which served as a platform to share their valuable insights and recommendations. Their efforts have led to the creation of an innovative system that streamlines inventory management and enhances the front-end operations of the market.

Director of the Honors Program, Professor John Baick, expressed his gratitude, stating, "I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the students in the Honors Computer Science class: Klaire Farley, Morgan Potler, James Robb, James Rossetti, Gabby Sweet, and Cheyenne Wimpenney. Their dedication to the classwork is truly commendable, and I sincerely hope they have gained a profound appreciation for the integration of academia with the real-world challenges they will encounter after graduation. The Honors Program aims to instill not only a commitment to coursework but also a willingness to embrace opportunities and take risks."

As a testament to their dedication and commitment, the students have decided to utilize their share of the Honors Program Activities Fund to donate $500 to BEAR Necessities Market. This contribution will provide additional support for the market's ongoing operations and further assist students in need.

Moreover, Professors Ellis and Brennan, will continue the work that has begun by embarking on a mission to seek grants that can bolster the resources and sustainability of BEAR Necessities Market. By pursuing sizable or renewable grants, they aim to secure long-term support and expand the reach of this critical service on campus.

The initiative showcases the remarkable commitment of Western New England University to fostering a supportive and inclusive campus community. By engaging students in meaningful projects that have a tangible impact on their fellow classmates, WNE continues to empower its students to create positive change and address societal challenges.