Computing Science aids charities
A University of Glasgow Settlement initiative which offers local charities assistance from School of Computing Science students is being hailed as a major success.
The School’s IT Internships for the Third Sector (ITI3) programme pairs second and third-year Computing Science students with charities for eight weeks during their summer break.
Students use their expertise to help charities solve problems which would otherwise require expensive support from IT consultants. In return, the students gain a better understanding of how their knowledge can be used practically in the workplace.
Dr Helen Purchase, senior lecturer in the School of Computing Science, has been working with the UofG Settlement to establish the ITI3 program. She said: “Charities have particular problems in making the most of their IT facilities: they tend to lack specialised local expertise, battle with small technical issues, and don’t know how use their computers efficiently, nor how to upgrade them effectively. Many charities will pay for an external consultant to visit them when they have a particular problem, but they can seldom afford the dedicated attention that our students can give them over two months of the summer.
“ITI3 internships have three very positive outcomes. Firstly, charities gain by having focussed and dedicated IT support to help them make effective use of their technology. Secondly, students benefit from getting practical experience in a real workplace. Finally, the programme helps umbrella bodies like the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Voluntary Action Fund reduce the amount they need to spend on expensive IT consultant advice for the charities.”
The program was successfully trialled last year through a UofG Settlement Find a Solution project with Toonspeak, a charity which provides free, high quality drama and theatre activities for young people aged 11-25 living in Glasgow. According to Toonspeak’s Amanda Liddle, the contributions of students Brendan Rorrison and Ryan Wallace made “a massive long term difference to the company”.
This year, two pairs of students offered their assistance to Maggie’s Cancer Care and the Legal Services Agency and benefited from mentoring from members of staff from J.P. Morgan. The program was part funded and administered through The University of Glasgow Settlement.
Maggie’s Cancer Care
Maggie’s Cancer Care provides free practical, emotional and social support to people with cancer and their family and friends. The first Maggie’s Cancer Care Centre was established in 1996 and other centres have opened in NHS cancer hospitals across the UK.
Students Kristina Lazarova and Euan Cockburn worked with Gillian Hailstones at Maggie’s to analyse the requirements for improved collection, analysis and presentation of visitor data. They came up with five possible solutions, which will form the basis of decisions to be made by the charity in their attempts to streamline their operations.
Gillian Hailstones, Head of Operations, Scotland, said: “This has been a really important piece of work for us and one which Maggie’s would not have otherwise been able to resource.
“The successful administration of our Centres relies on the data collection and thanks to the support we have had from the ITI3 scheme at the University of Glasgow, we now feel we are heading in the right direction with that while maintaining our focus on providing our programme of free practical, emotional and social support to people with cancer, as well as their family and friends.”
“I would like to thank everyone involved through the University of Glasgow for all their efforts.”
Kristina said: “The project gave me the chance to experience working in an office environment in a team which enlightened my understanding on many computer science concepts. Taking part in the project helped me realize how important the job of a computer scientist is and deepened my interest in the subject.”
Legal Services Agency
The Glasgow-based Legal Services Agency provides skilled legal advice, assistance and representation to vulnerable people. The agency works primarily with people who are disadvantaged through mental illness, dementia, vulnerability resulting from youth or old age, poverty, debt, threatened homelessness, exclusion or any other reason.
The agency’s Kirsty Thomson supervised the work of students Viktor Bakayov and Alexandrina Pancheva as they first analysed the charity’s existing system for generating reports from client data then developed a new version which facilitates more efficient data collection and reporting. The students trained staff on how to use the new system and produced a comprehensive user manual to ensure the smooth running of the system in the future.
Kirsty said: “Alex and Viktor installed a more efficient system of gathering data which ensures that we can quickly and efficiently access up-to-date information about its client group in a variety of formats. This has saved us, on average, 25 working days a year – this means that we can assist more clients and can present their needs more effectively. We are very grateful for the expertise, energy and commitment from the whole of the ITI3 team which has ensured a revolutionary change to our day to day work.”
Alexandrina said: “I’ve always wanted to work for a charity and I am really grateful that the ITI3 Project gave me this amazing opportunity. The project was challenging but I have had the chance to learn a lot and work with great people.
“The Legal Services Agency is a remarkable charity that helps many asylum seekers and refugees. It was such an inspiration to spend time with their team and work with them to the best of my abilities. Viktor and I went through all stages of software development in order to create an application that would transform the way the Women and Young Persons’ Department works. Our solution to their input and data analysis problems will not only make the life of the employees easier but will ensure that the staff assists more clients.”
First published: 12 September 2015