By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — These kids are glued to their computers every chance they get. So the chance to learn more about certain applications, work on a project that would benefit the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and hear from young adults who were successful in fields related to Internet Technology was too good to pass up.
About a dozen young men, soon to be sophomores, juniors or seniors at diocesan high schools, spent three days during summer vacation in “boot camp,” at the north Kansas City Cerner Corp. campus, getting acquainted and working with advanced computer applications and geomapping. The diocese is interested in the creation of a geomap of Catholic parishes and schools. The term geomapping means adding data, aerial photographs or other information to digital (online) maps.
Late last summer, Steve Hilliard, director of the Diocesan Planning Office, met Kurt Loudon of Shafer, Kline and Warren, Inc., an engineering firm, for breakfast to discuss some plans the diocese was interested in implementing. Hilliard asked Loudon what he did, and was told, “What I do is kind of esoteric — I’m a software architect. I design geo- mapping.”
Hilliard reflected that parents, new residents, real estate agents and others call the diocese frequently to ask questions including, “What parish is my home in?” “What Catholic school should I send my children to?” “What Catholic churches are in such and such a neighborhood?” An interactive map of the diocese, with pop-up information easily accessed, would be a good marketing tool.
Hilliard and Louden discussed the idea and Louden suggested teaching some high school students the basics of how to put maps on websites and then let them take it over.
Hilliard broached the idea to Catholic Schools Superintendent Dan Peters, and they had several brainstorming sessions with Loudon. Loudon brought in software consultant John Krzysztow, president and CEO of CjK software consultants. Krzysztow, who formed his web development, design and maintenance company in 1993, had successfully mentored and hired several Olathe, Kan., high school students and was willing to facilitate the project. More discussions and networking followed. Principals and technology instructors at the four diocesan high schools were approached, and the proposed project, with its learning components, was enthusiastically received.
Cathy Mueller, vice president for Client Experience at Cerner, involved Cerner in the planning. Mueller, who serves on the board of the diocese’s Bright Futures Fund for the schools, offered the use of Cerner equipment for a virtual classroom setup. It was decided however, that it would be advantageous to the students to be in a boot camp on the Cerner campus in North Kansas City, and the equipment would already be in place.
Loudon approached Esri, a global mapping software company with a satellite office in Leawood, Kan., about obtaining the software the students would use. Esri was impressed, he said, because while there are other mapping projects in school districts across the country, the mapping projects were specific to a particular school. This project was the only one where the software would be used for all four diocesan high schools, and students in those high schools would all be working on the same project.
Through Esri, Amazon.com supplied the software necessary for remote desktop usage and Cloud computing. Hilliard likened Cloud to a raincloud. “I don’t know where it stores all the water that provides shade and rain, but I know it works.” With Cloud, all the software, data storage and access services are delivered without the end-user being required to access them from any particular place. It’s like all the application data is stored in a cloud, hence its name.
Emails went out from teachers to selected students, and young men from Archbishop O’Hara, St. Pius X and Bishop LeBlond high schools arrived at the boot camp the first week of August. Due to scheduling conflicts, students from St. Mary’s High School would get involved a bit later. About a dozen students will be involved in the project over the course of the upcoming school year.
The students were told right from the start that they would be respected and treated as young adults, and their response was immediate, Hilliard said.
Archbishop O’Hara junior Mike Wulff said he wanted to know more about the hows, whats and whys of a computer rather than just work on his grade point average. “I mean, you can have a 4.0 GPA and still not know how to really use a computer. A company’s going to hire the guy who can take a computer apart with his eyes closed, even if he doesn’t have a 4.0. Languages like Pearl, Python and Java are very important — you have to be able to talk to computers in their languages and tell them what to do. This is cool because it’s a real world setting not just a classroom at school.” Mike is an avid video game player and would like to design video games. “I play a lot and I know what people want in video games,” he said.
The 3-day boot camp was intended to introduce the software applications to the students and make certain they knew how to use them. Guest speakers Bryan Kelly and Eyual Getahun, both mentored and hired by Krzysztow when they were 16, talked about their personal business success and gave the students motivating pointers.
Kelly, who is a software architect at Cerner, urged them to get real world experience while in high school and college. “Differentiate your skills, articulate what you know and love what you’re doing,” he suggested.
Antony Cherian, a St. Pius X senior who is “still 16, just wanted to take a computer class and this seemed the best of what was offered.” Antony was accustomed to using Office and Word applications for classwork, and was familiar with PowerPoint, but wanted to know more. “I want to know more about computers and applications like Python and Java, so I know what I’m talking about.”
Guest speaker Getahun, who is working towards a degree in Finance and Supply Chain Management at K.U., owns Roundwell Consulting, a consulting firm that provides skills in web, database, and desktop development. He urged the students to get involved in what they are doing, be confident and willing to ask questions and “challenge everyone and everything.” Youth is not a barrier to success, he said.
Douglas Soule, a senior at St. Pius X, knew some of the basics of computer technology, but “I wanted to expand my know-how,” he said. He researched some of the programs that were introduced at the first bootcamp session in order to understand them better. One of the systems introduced was “Alice,” a 3-D drag and drop interface application that teaches the basics of creating storytelling animation, interactive game playing, or web videos.
Alice was used to assess the students’ computer skills. Hilliard commented that they brought creativity and critical thinking skills into what they did with the application.
O’Hara junior Joel Cousin has loved computers since “I was six years old and sat on my dad’s lap and he showed me how to play games on the computer. I’m on the computer 90 percent of the time, playing games when I’m not doing school work.” Joel was excited to learn about the boot camp and its geomapping project. “I didn’t even know something like geomapping existed, but it makes a lot of sense.”
Twins Jeremy and Ethan Ambrose, both juniors at O’Hara, were staffers at a summer camp and unable to attend the first session. Jeremy said the bootcamp course “hooked me because it’s a chance to get resources, a kind of jump start into getting involved with computers. I’m motivated to learn. I’ve gotten a preview of what I’ll learn this year by working on this project, and it will help me in the future.”
He is interested in science. “Whether it’s physics or biology or another branch of science, I’ll still use computers and I need to know what they can do.”
Ethan said he doesn’t really know much about the technical side of computers, but he wants to learn. “I’m a potential future fan. I haven’t set my priorities on the future yet, but it’ll be something in engineering, I think. Computer tech is also a real possibility.”
LeBlond junior Harry Sommers is interested in a further understanding of computers and what they can do. He said he started playing computer games when he was about 7 and is interested in a future as a video game designer. “This is a good way to begin,” he said.
The boot camp was a good beginning and will be succeeded by a virtual classroom, using virtual PCs, Hilliard said. The students will comprise the virtual team spread across the four schools. They will all work on the same project, but they won’t be in the same place at the same time. “To assist in the virtual classroom, they will be given the needed codes to access the mapping software from virtually any PC,” he said. The kids are doing this in addition to their regular class schedules, he added.
This is a win-win situation, Krzysztow said. “The students will be providing a geomap of the diocese for the diocese. We are providing the kids with real work experience in IT.”
Hilliard said the students will start to see the benefits of what they are doing. “With Internet technology, they will get a taste of programming, a different side of the world along with the moral and ethical development encouraged and nurtured by Catholic schools. This project will last an entire school year. It is styled after a class at Carnegie Mellon Institute. It will give the students some real world experience, and it will benefit the people in the 27 counties of the diocese.”