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Student organization uses tech skills for good

Megan Knox, a fourth-year computer science and engineering major, noticed a gap in student humanitarian engineering efforts at Ohio State: computer science seemed to be absent.

“I was a part of humanitarian engineering scholars and what I noticed was a lot of other engineering fields showing their humanitarian impact,” said Knox. “It wasn’t as clear with computer science where our impact is.”

Ohio State students assist kids who are working on laptop computers in a conference room.Code 4 Community members show a group of local students how to play their driving simulator.So in 2017, Knox founded Code 4 Community, a student organization that assists nonprofits and other humanitarian projects that may not have the resources, skill or time to create a needed website, application or program. Students in Code 4 Community not only gain real-world experience, but they apply their computer engineering skills and education for the greater social good.

One of the club’s current projects is bringing to life a professor’s vision for a mental health web app. Social Work Associate Professor Scottye Cash, the organization’s co-faculty advisor, wanted to create a resource for adolescents struggling with mental health problems, but wasn’t sure where to find technical support to build it. Code 4 Community was a perfect fit.

The web app is structured so users can first take surveys about mental health and have pressing questions answered. The site also directs users to helpful resources tailored to their survey responses, all of which are based on Cash’s expertise in adolescent mental wellness. The project is set to begin beta testing this semester with Star House, a local nonprofit that helps homeless youth.

Code 4 Community’s mission has two parts: help build platforms for good and bring computer science to local schools. The organization’s outreach efforts place emphasis on being hands-on for club members and students alike—members exercise their skills by building and programming educational games for young kids to interact with, both as a game and with the code itself.

A previous outreach project included a driving simulation coded by members and altered by the students, who could interact with the code and change aspects of the game. Currently, one of Code 4 Community’s student project groups is building a create-your-own adventure game focused on humanitarian problems, such as climate change and world hunger, for young kids to play and interact with.

For Knox, the organization’s outreach efforts are especially important. Knox started at Ohio State as an electrical and computer engineering major, but enjoyed coding in an introductory engineering course so much that she switched to computer science and engineering. Her small hometown offered next to no exposure to computer science and she finds the opportunity to introduce young kids to the field invaluable.

“I had never expressed an interest in computer science because I had never been exposed to it,” said Knox. “That’s part of the reason why outreach is so exciting for me. I want to give students exposure to computer science so they know what it is and what they can do with it.”

by Brianna Long, College of Engineering student communications assistant

Tags: Students