Asymmetrik at UMBC
Mentoring the next generation of technologists
Jun 02, 2021

At Asymmetrik, one of our favorite ways to give back to the community is through mentoring students. This past semester, Asymmetrik Data Scientist Cara Crawford and Software Engineers Alexi Doak and Markus Dale mentored a Software Engineering class at The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). The trio created a project based on Cara’s volunteer work and provided guidance and review for the students during the mid-term and final project presentations. As a result, the students were able to gain real project experience implementing a three-tier architecture with a state/county map, REST services and database backing.

The Project

Cara, Alexi, and Markus worked with the class to explore visually over time how COVID-19 outbreaks in criminal justice facilities were correlated with outbreaks in their local counties and vice versa. Since this project only spanned one semester, for the initial MVP (minimum viable product), the students focused on the state of California.

Map of California Correctional Institutions

The goal was to create a web application with an interactive map showing COVID-19 case counts by day for all prisons and counties in California. A longer term goal would be the ability to display data for the whole United States similar to this NYT map with prison information overlay/zoom capabilities.

With the tool, when a user selects a specific day, the map should update and display cases for that day by appropriately shading county and prison overlays.

The teams used the data from three sources: New York Times Covid data by county, UCLA Covid Behind Bars – CA history, and Geo JSON for California. Then, they were instructed to create a three-tier architecture with a presentation layer, an application layer, and a database layer.

How Did The Class Do?

As expected, the class did amazing work! The students created very professional projects and it was clear that they wanted to go above and beyond simply creating a functional tool. Not only did they add creative features such as a vaccine finder, but they put effort into ensuring that a user would be able to easily access the information they wanted.

Projects that started with a static map and fake data at the midterm presentation were transformed into fully-functional web applications by the end of the semester, with interactive features and in one case, an option to download data for research purposes. Many students also noted that this was one of their first experiences using an Agile workflow similar to a real-world software development environment. Plus, they gained valuable experience in tools and technologies like Leaflet.js, Node.js, REST, JSON, MySQL, and Jira.

Alexi said, “I appreciated how teams emphasized accessibility and the user experience. I enjoyed watching them grow as developers throughout the semester.” Cara found the experience rewarding as well. She says, “It was great to see the students work together as a software team, and to see them really think through what features would make for a great product, not just what would meet the requirements of a class project. It was very rewarding to see the progress throughout the semester.”

Overall, it was a great experience for everyone involved. We look forward to doing this again in the future!