You’re running late for class and wondering if you can catch the next shuttle. Or maybe you need to check PAC hours to plan a workout.
Before this academic year, chances are you had to futz around with multiple websites to get the scoop. Now there’s an app for that, Furman Now! The app offers information about events, dining options, academic dates and more.
Furman Now! is the offspring of a sustainability science alternative transportation survey conducted in 2017, which revealed that about 75 percent of students would likely use an app that laid out all transportation options on campus including morning shuttle stops and tracker, Greenlink bus route, Walmart shuttle and tracker and others. The notion to include more than transportation information grew from that initial survey.
In the summer of 2020 Bryan Catron, a Furman computer science instructor, recruited two student researchers, Ethan Grantham ’21 and Nick Robins ’22, to work on the iOS version of the app. With coding help from Catron, they were able to build the iOS app in a tight 10-week window. The iOS version became the blueprint for the Android version fashioned by 2021 summer research fellows Olivia Edwards ’22 and Boone Tison ’22.
Grantham, a computer science and psychology alum who now works as an analyst at Deloitte Consulting, said working on the app helped him land his current position. “It allowed me to explore my interest in software development and contribute to a project that brings value to the campus community,” he said.
For all the developers, the oft-repeated challenge was juggling the needs and data of several organizations and groups on campus. But the difficulties reaped rewards.
“I gained new technical skills and confidence in my ability to independently solve problems and communicate complex ideas,” Grantham said.
Catron said it was gratifying to see students produce a product from beginning to end while managing obstacles related to testing and delivering an app that can be widely used. “Technically, they needed to learn at least a dozen new tools and techniques and several new languages to support the entire application data flow,” he said.
For Robins, a computer science major who wants to develop software after graduation, developing Furman Now! was his first experience building something people use. Besides notching experience working as part of a team and honing time management skills, he said, “I learned that developing software involves reading a lot of documentation and finding creative solutions to the many unanticipated problems that arise.”
Tison said working with ever-changing development environment Android Studio was a hurdle as was navigating a sea of Furman and non-Furman data, people, schedules and websites. Yet the experience was valuable to Tison, a computer science major who is interested in app development careers. “It helped me build new skills and expand skills I already had,” he said.
Edwards, who had some previous experience with coding, didn’t expect that so much of her time would be spent corralling the disparate data sources. “The dining hall has its own website, the PAC, all the academic buildings have separate websites – and this is the problem we saw and the whole reason behind the app,” said Edwards, an applied math and pre-dental studies major.
The development team sees Furman Now! reaching even beyond the Furman community. Anyone can download the app and there’s no sign-in requirements. “It’s an easy access tool for prospective students to get a look into what daily life is like here at Furman,” Edwards said.
Meantime, Furman Now! is gaining traction with about 800 downloads to date. Catron said he and his developers will begin a bigger marketing push for the app now that students are back on campus and both iOS and Android versions are ready.
“Our main goal for the app is to make it part of Furman culture – like one of the first things you do is download this app. It’s the most convenient connection to campus with all the resources you need at the touch of your hand,” Edwards said.