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The Informatics Senior Design Project infuses undergraduate education with hands-on, practical learning through external partnerships from local corporations and organizations. During spring and summer 2018, the banking solutions company Global Wave Group offered its support and sponsored a project. By the end of the two-quarter capstone course, the four informatics students who teamed up to work on the project — Daniel LeeLilyann Khung Torres , Griffin Williams and Aivan Eugene Francisco — had not only gained real-world experience, but had also developed a mobile banking app prototype and successfully presented a demo to Global Wave Group’s client, First Foundation Bank.

“The overall experience was excellent,” says Gregg Stempson, chief operating officer of Global Wave Group. “The process was very rewarding for us and time well spent.”

Tackling Real-World Problems
“At the start of the quarter, a group of sponsors arrived to pitch their project proposal presentations,” explains Lee, who just finished his final quarter and hopes to work at a software development company. He was both nervous and excited to start working on the project. “These sponsors were representatives from professional businesses and organizations, which meant that our projects had a lot of weight and significance to them.”

Global Wave Group tasked the students with creating a mobile app for their commercial banking software. The desired end product was an online mockup ready to demo to their client and hand off to their programmers.

The course was unlike any other Lee has taken. “The class was very untraditional in that there were no quizzes, midterms or final exams.” Instead, the “final” was a demo of the product to Global Wave Group during class. Leading up to that, the team had bi-weekly sprint reports, as well as classroom presentations, where they reported on their progress to fellow classmates, the course TAs and Informatics Professor Hadar Ziv — who has been running the capstone course for years.

“We were thrown into this highly technical environment, and we needed to quickly adapt to what our sponsor required from us,” says Lee. “This meant learning multiple new programming languages, working with software we’ve never heard of, and following professional procedures.” Yet through it all, he said Global Wave Group was extremely supportive. “They were incredibly pleasant and enjoyable to work with.”

That sentiment was shared by teammate Khung Torres. “Global Wave Group was an amazing team to work with,” she says. “Their support was phenomenal.” She was similarly impressed with Ziv’s guidance throughout the course. “Professor Ziv was understanding and catered to us on a group-by-group basis, which I appreciated a lot.”

At the same time, both Lee and Khung Torres were surprised by how much leeway they had in working on the project. “There was a lot more freedom than I expected,” says Khung Torres.

“We were more or less left to create our own schedules, depending on the needs of our sponsor,” says Lee. “We were responsible for communicating with the sponsor and figuring out what work needed to be done every week.”

Khung Torres credits this responsibility with her ability to juggle two part-time jobs since graduating this fall — one as an esports consultant for the Samueli Academy and another as a social media marketing intern at Kingston Technology. “The time management I learned from the INF capstone course and hard work ethic I have make me confident I can balance my time carefully to succeed.” She plans to continue the balancing act until she lands a full-time job, hopefully at her dream company, Square Enix.

“The most important experience I got from the class was knowing I am capable of pushing myself and managing my time,” she notes. “The INF capstone gives students the chance to tackle real-life problems surrounding project teams and management. This involves communication, time management, self-accountability and much more.”

Supporting Industry
In the end, it wasn’t only the students who benefited from the capstone experience. Stempson, himself a UCI alumnus, says the benefits of the project were twofold. “First, we were able to contribute some of our time and experience back to UCI in a very simple and easy way,” he says.

“Second, we were able to work our way through the prototyping process for a new product we are considering.” Stempson admits that the team “made us recognize that some of the assumptions we had about how the product should work were incorrect. Without the team asking a lot of questions, I don’t think we would have ended up with as good of a prototype.”

For both Lee and Khung Torres, one of the best things about the project was meeting with a bank client — the fast-growing and Irvine-headquartered First Foundation Bank. “The most rewarding experience was when we had a working demo of our product and needed some outside feedback,” says Lee. “Global Wave Group suggested we meet with one of their bank clients for a real usability testing experience.”

According to Senior Vice President of Commercial Banking Lorrie Asker, “we were all impressed with the mobile application and the professionalism of the UCI team.” Furthermore, she says that “the First Foundation team left the meeting excited to use the mobile application we beta tested.” The application will let bankers “move client-impacting work forward and review information on a secure mobile device,” which Asker says are critical components of the company’s commitment to exceptional client service.

“I was impressed by the students’ project and the impact it may have on our work processes and efficiency at First Foundation in the future,” she explains. “It is encouraging to see a capstone project that has real value for business and industry.”

— Shani Murray