Apps tackling the issue of “relocation” were presented in October by 22 Washington State University students on six teams who took top honors at the 2019 Creative Jam event.

Topics tackled by the teams made up mostly of freshmen ranged from solutions to aging out of the foster system to college roommate selection, and from adjusting to college life to finding American resources for immigrants.

The third jam in as many years was co-hosted by tech giant Adobe, WSU’s Creative Corridor, and the First-Year Success Seminar (UNIV 104). The latter is a two-credit course within First-Year Programs, a unit in the Division of Academic Engagement and Student Achievement in the Provost’s Office.

“We couldn’t be happier with the academic outcomes of the fall Creative Jam,” said Chris Cooney, business faculty and member of WSU’s Creative Corridor, a campus-wide initiative giving students access to cutting-edge technology to use for creative pursuits.

“Jam participants had to learn to collaborate in their assigned teams, quickly learn Adobe digital design tools, apply their creative problem-solving skills, and deliver timed presentations to pitch their apps to judges and their peers.”

“More than 250 students in UNIV 104 were introduced to the class project back in September, and they worked in groups of three and four for more than a month to learn Adobe XD software well enough to build apps with at least 15 screens, tackle the assignment, and compete,” added Cindy Williams, assistant director of First-Year Programs and head of UNIV 104 with 32 sections.

“When we heard about the assignment in class, none of us knew the size of the project, what to expect, or how to begin,” said Amaya Kaipat, team leader for the No. 1 winning project. “We’d all used apps, of course, but few of us had ever used software to build one, let alone one designed to solve a problem.”

Winning teams

Thanks to Adobe, all finalists will receive a one-year subscription to the Creative Cloud, including access to app-development software Adobe XD, plus Amazon gift cards.

First-place winners of $200 each are Kaipat, Hsien-you Chao, and Bryn Rosemore, students of Emmanuel Jaiyeola, for “Golden Oasis,” an app to help people aging-out of the foster-care system find life resources

Second-place winners of $150 each are Amehra Welch, Hailey Jones, Paloma Shepherd, and Aida Asanbekova, students of Samantha Solomon, for “University Connect,” an app to help students make connections and find their way around a university campus.

Third-place winners of $100 each are Essa Bensinger, Bao Duong, Nolan Grant, and Jared Clayton, students of Jaiyeola, for “Laowai,” an app in three languages to help Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants reach opportunities in the U.S.

Fourth-place winners of $75 each are Vivian Pasion, Cameryn Spaulding, and Taylor Clay, students of Solomon, for “Safe Haven,” an app to help anyone in a new environment connect with things to do and ways to meet people.

Fifth-place winners of $50 each are Denilson Ibarra-Membreno, Damien Alvarado, Alyssa Garza, and Muhammad Dzulfiqar, students of Modupe Akinnouye, for “Chatter,” an app to help find roommate matches through questions and profiles.

Sixth-place winners of $25 each are Jenny Truong, Stacia Jewett, Aanikka Hodges, and Demiah Garza, students of Solomon, for “In Touch,” an app to connect users with shopping, sights, museums, events, and health centers in Seattle, Portland, Spokane, and Moscow, Idaho.

“The theme of relocation sprang off this year’s Common Reading Program book focused on international refugee issues,” said Williams. “Discussing and solving a problem as general as relocation was hard enough, but then building an app using commercial software was a unique assignment specifically built into the course curriculum. The results we saw from all of the teams, including the final teams at the jam, were amazing.”

Jam preparation

The seed for a large first-year class to participate in the jam sprouted in spring, when members of the Creative Corridor crossed paths with Williams and First-Year Programs Director Karen Weathermon at a conference. Weaving app development into the course syllabus of a prime college-success course would give students early in their academic careers experience with teamwork, critical thinking, digital literacy, and much more.

Over the summer, UNIV 104 administrators tackled aspects of the challenge with Creative Corridor and Adobe staff and pulled together critical pieces. When students arrived on campus in fall, instructors in all sections of the freshman course were prepared to move the project forward as part of a much wider set of lessons.

Top team leader Kaipat said that when students were told about the challenge, “we didn’t know the size of the project, but if we did, that might have been a little more intimidating.” Teams were randomly assigned with three or four members each.

“Teamwork was one of the best parts. We all understood we were in the same boat, and we were eager and open minded about working together.”

Their instructor, Jaiyeola, was a great cheerleader, Kaipat said.

“I encouraged them to overcome the challenges of it all, to find their balance, to pursue a passion in whatever app they created,” said Jaiyeola, who is pursuing his Ph.D. in education and teaching UNIV 104 sections for the second year. “They needed to stay positive and push through any difficulties. I warned them that negative thoughts could be their worst demons.”

Kaipat said she thinks that the topic of her team’s app—resources for those aging out of the foster system—was attractive to judges because it was unique and appealing. The topic was a natural one for her team members: one has experienced the issue; Kaipat is a software engineering major who has been building her own app on safe-dining options; and a third teammate “was a natural” at project oversight, prioritized information, and tested the app rigorously.

They brainstormed solutions to challenges former foster children face, incorporated data points about the foster system, and conscientiously learned how to optimize Adobe XD features. Like other teams in all class sections, over the course of a month they presented their app to peers, became semi-finalists, then moved on to the finals.

“Presenting in the big, round room at the SPARK building was pretty awesome, and we were all nervous,” said Kaipat. “I ran the computer and had some technical issues and fumbled the slides a few times, but recovered.”

Rewards of the effort

Williams and jam colleagues are pleased with the outcome.

“It was a great experience for students and staff alike, and we’ve all been inspired in new and creative ways. We’re so pleased, in fact, that we are organizing a second jam experience this spring for the next set of UNIV 104 students.”

‘Thinking outside the box’ applies to teaching as well as learning, Williams said. “The whole field of education is changing quickly and it’s rewarding to be part of the efforts.”