Andrew Fry has one directive for students in his “Managing Technical Teams" [MTT] course—make a contribution to the community utilizing technology. Fry, a lecturer at the UW Tacoma’s Institute of Technology, has been teaching the course for 16 years. “This is probably my favorite class and it is one of the best ways to do community outreach that the University and the Institute has had for a while,” said Fry.
Students in Fry’s class have just ten weeks to take an idea from the concept stage to reality. The first two weeks are spent learning core concepts and getting to know classmates. This latter part is important because all of the projects will be done by teams of four to seven people. Fry stresses this point to his students by making a case for having a diverse group of people with different ways of thinking. “When it comes to creative problem solving or any complex project, you need different skills and different talents in order to make it work,” he said.
In Fry’s opinion, a group should not only be diverse but should also have the same expectations. “The big question is, ‘what’s motivating you?’ Is it that you’re taking a class and getting five credits? Which is fine, but if you were to pick something that you care about you’re going to be more motivated to do a good job. And, that’s what happens.”
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One of the more successful projects to emerge from MTT involved Fisher House at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The Fisher House program provides temporary housing to service members and their families receiving care at Madigan Army Medical Center. At the time, the organization relied on a paper-based application system. “A group of students redid their front-end application process so everything could be done online,” said Fry. “They also build a back-end database to manage reservations.” Lieutenant General Stephen Lanza, commanding general of I Corps at JBLM, honored the group in a ceremony at UW Tacoma.
The range of projects reflects different ideas and interests. One group revamped the website for the Knights of Pythias, adding Google calendar integration, a photo gallery and a widget from the Knights’ Facebook page. A second group helped a non-profit out of Montana that rescues Weimaraner dogs. “Students rebuilt their website, added some video and Paypal for donations,” said Fry. “They got more donations in the first month of that going live then they had done in the previous six months.”
Cuneyt Baris took MTT in the spring of 2016. He and five other classmates formed a group they dubbed “Go Dawg Gaming.” Baris, an avid gamer, pitched the idea of raising money for Seattle Children’s Hospital by hosting a video-game-based fundraiser at UW Tacoma. The 30-year-old had done something similar with an organization called Extra Life and raised more than $700. “If I can do what I love and raise money to help kids then it’s a win-win,” said Baris.
The group reserved space on campus and held events on two separate days. They got help from the campus club Nation of Extraordinary Smashers, who provided support and some equipment. In addition to a variety of game consoles, members of Go Dawg also provided food and prizes to participants. Anyone could swing by and play games, eat or make a donation. The event was also live-streamed. The group collected more than $800 for Seattle Children’s. Baris will be a senior in the fall and he’s thinking about making the event a tradition at UW Tacoma. “We kind of want to make this an annual thing, something we can pass down to the next IT program,” he said.
Fry designed this class with the future in mind. He tells students they will create something they can put on their resumes. He’s also upfront about the pitfalls of group work and makes sure everyone understands they will get a group grade on the project. His role isn’t so much to manage but to guide. “This class is also about conflict resolution, about motivating your team and building identity,” Fry said.
At the end students must put together a post-mortem that goes through the different steps of their project. The document produced by Go Dawg Gaming is thick and details everything from a breakdown of responsibilities to meeting minutes to sample marketing materials. The text reads like a business plan. Woven throughout are answers to questions Fry asks his students to consider, not only about his class but for life after graduation.
If their post-mortem reflections are any indication, the Go Dawg Gaming team hit the mark. The phrase “one of the best team projects” comes up again and again in their evaluations. As team member Nate Steinhauer said, “It was fun, exhilarating and showed me how far a small group from a university can go if they really set their minds toward a goal.”
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org