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Engineering Staff, Students Collaborate on Open Source Solutions

December 5, 2006

Engineering Staff, Students Collaborate on Open Source SolutionsAt UC Merced, hands-on education means getting real work done. A prime example: fourteen student employees in the School of Engineering’s Linux lab assigned to special projects like the revamped engineering Web site at

Matt Dudys, a sophomore majoring in computer science and engineering, has led the Web development group for the school’s main site.

Dean [Jeff] Wright emphasized creating a site that could be customized to the content that needed to go there, rather than a system that would force users to fit their information into its structure, Dudys said.

The team began by looking at other sites and brainstorming. Then they divided up responsibilities, worked on open-source solutions for the functions they wanted and proceeded through several iterations of the site. Sometimes they had to advocate for an idea they believed was important, even when others didn’t agree.

We all learned about the process of implementing a design – starting with the idea and then moving through the process of obtaining feedback, changing things as you go, said sophomore Drew Tilley, a bioengineering major.

Crystal Wuebker, a senior computer science and engineering major who was the author of the School of Engineering’s original site in 2004, agreed.

There was a lot of trial and error, trying something else until we found what worked, she said.

Wuebker is also a full time staff member and works to help the school continue to involve students in meaningful work that will prepare them for real-world engineering.

The leaders of the school are adamant about making sure that happens, she said. Sometimes it’s hard to line up different schedules and priorities between students and staff, but it’s worth it to offer these opportunities.

Dudys believes the experience will help him. The tools may be different by the time I get out there, but the engineering process - the meetings, the coordination, the deadlines - will prepare me for my career, he said.

Student employees are developing open-source solutions for three more sites as well as data management systems for contact information, course development and approval, assessment tools, faculty recruitment and meeting management. Some of these solutions are already being used campuswide.