Behind the My Catawba County mobile Web application launched this summer to help residents with such tasks as finding the closest park or avoiding traffic congestion was computer information systems student Jason Eades ’11. “The project has resulted in hundreds of residents using My Catawba County to get and find county information and services in a format that is convenient and increasingly more widely used – mobile,” said Eades, a Catawba County native who graduated in December.
Eades began the program that developed into the mobile Web application as part of classes taught by Barbara Jo White and Dan Clapper, associate professors of computer information systems within the College of Business. An element of the courses encourages students to apply what they are learning to serve the community, and White connected Eades with Terry Bledsoe, chief information officer for Catawba County, to discuss how what he developed could meet a need there. “This project began in one class as an engagement project, continued in the capstone class and grew into a paid internship that resulted in an app that is now deployed to the public,” said White.
My Catawba County includes a “citizen service locator,” which links users to a map or list of information on topics such as parks, libraries, police, emergency and animal services. Users also can see name, address, contact information and images from points of interest. The application can point users to a feed of traffic alerts and updates from the state transportation department, or traffic or road condition information shared by the county. In addition, the app links users to county job openings, information about who is in jail and mobile versions of the county’s social networking pages. For Eades, one of the most significant features is the capability to show where open Red Cross shelters are during an emergency, how close they are and how to get there. “Hopefully, it doesn’t need to be used, but if it does, it’s another tool the county can deploy to help people,” said Eades.
Bledsoe said information from the county’s website takes on a new dimension with the application’s use of technology and location-based services developed for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, and he credits Eades for his role as the lead designer on the effort. “We wouldn’t have the mobile app if it wasn’t for Jason,” said Bledsoe. “Every day, we pick up more people using it, and we are being asked for more features. When you get comments like that, that tells me that they appreciate the ability to access information using this technology.”
Clapper said he is encouraged that the work of WCU students can benefit entities that must find ways in today’s economy to do more with less. “That our students can help them meet their missions with technology solutions when they don’t have the resources is something we’re very proud of,” he said.
The app also received rave reviews at the North Carolina Local Government Information Systems Association fall meeting in Asheville, where Eades won a general interest division of a “demo slam” in which he and other local government employees shared their projects. He has accepted a job with Buncombe County.