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For $125, 2 Students Build Official App for SUNY-Albany

Shivam Parikh (left), one of two students who developed the U. at Albany's mobile app, worked with Brian Smith, a web developer for the university. (Photo by Mark Schmidt)

Shivam Parikh (left), one of two students who developed the U. at Albany’s mobile app, worked with Brian Smith, a web developer for the university. (Photo by Mark Schmidt)

Two computer-science majors who received bachelor-of-science degrees this past weekend from the State University of New York at Albany are giving their alma mater a gift fit for the digital age.

Shivam Parikh and Matthew Gilliland spent their final undergraduate semester building the university’s first official mobile application. It will be available free for download in time for student orientation in August, and it will function on both Android and Apple iOS devices.

One feature will allow users to manage their financial accounts, reviewing balances and adding money to their student-ID cards, which can be used to buy food, among other things. Another feature will provide users with walking, biking, and driving directions from any location on the university’s three campuses. Other features will allow students to locate available laundry machines and to reserve library books.

Jennifer Carron, director of marketing at Albany, says that the university had long talked about an app but that budget constraints had kept the idea on the back burner. Then Mr. Parikh proposed the project to the web-services department, where he was an intern.

It was an opportunity to enhance his development skills, he says, describing the app as “a small gift to the school.” He adds, “I wanted to leave behind something with my name on it.”

The app cost the university about $125, says Ms. Carron.

Starting in January, Mr. Parikh and Mr. Gilliland each spent about 15 hours a week on the development of the app, which they shared as their senior projects. The work was based on an open-source mobile framework called PhoneGap. They also studied as many as 25 apps in use at other institutions—most of which, they found, had been developed by for-profit vendors.

“That is the main thing that we wanted to avoid,” Mr. Parikh says. “The main difference is students know more what other students might be looking for in an app.”

Mr. Parikh and Mr. Gilliland, who met when they were enrolled at Ulster County Community College, will spend an additional year at Albany studying computer science as graduate students.

As the number of personal mobile devices on college campuses soars, mobile applications are taking on increasingly important roles in institutions’ communications and business operations. Some, like one released at the start of the 2013-14 academic year by California State University at Northridge, now allow students to add and drop courses on their smartphones.

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