What happens when you cross a Tamagotchi — those digital pets popular among children of the 90s — and the FitBit? You get StepPet, an app that makes exercise not only good for you, but also for the digital creature that feeds on and responds to your activity. It’s the work of William Nedds, an economics and business double major who’s one of more than 200 students who showcased their software development and website design work at the Computer Science Fair.

The annual fair isn’t just for computer science majors — Nedds is a CS minor — it’s open to any student who’s taken a computer science course this year and wants to present their classwork. The result is a broad range of projects on display that draw from the students’ many skills and interests — and show just how much can be created over the course of a semester.

Consider the work of students Christine Bolognino, Jeff Maynard, Maggie Dinger and Kevin Bloom: a wearable ring with an embedded microphone that allows users to touch anything with a vibration and record that sound to their phone and even geolocate it on a map. It was the project they created in Professor Christian Skalka’s Mobile and Embedded Devices class, which pairs students with a local stakeholder who has an idea for an app. Their stakeholder was Jenn Karson, sound artist and College of Engineering staffer. To create their project, the team worked with engineering students at the UVM FabLab, which Karson supervises, to design and 3D print the ring. Dinger, a CS major and studio art minor, also designed packaging and a logo for the product, which were produced at the FabLab, via laser cutting and engraving.

UVM Computer Science Fair

“The fair helps motivate students to do really good projects and show off their best work,” says Maggie Eppstein, Computer Science Department chair. There’s also financial incentive. More than 20 sponsors make cash prizes possible for 18 winning projects across six categories, a total of $3,600. Another $150 was distributed randomly, with help from, of course, a little computer programming written for the occasion.

One of this year’s winners, in the category of Beginner Programming, was “A Brief Exchange” by students Slayton Marx and Hope Puroll. They created a text-based adventure game that parodies film noir. “I watched The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca and Pulp Fiction,” Marx says, before he sat down to write the text players read and interact with as they worth their way through the Python-programmed game.

Chris Krol, software development manager for IBM, says it’s that kind of creativity technology companies are looking for in employees. Krol was one of many representatives from company sponsors attending and judging the event — and networking with students.

UVM Computer Science Fair
“It’s really energizing for me to come here and meet with these students,” Krol said, who was also providing students with free access to IBM Bluemix, a cloud-based application development platform the company is making available through its Academic Initiative. “They have a lot of enthusiasm and creativity. That’s really what we’re looking for — people who are interested in applying their skills and craft to everyday problems.”

On the other side of the Davis Center ballroom, junior Lily Nguyen walked dozens of visitors through the program she created — an interactive way of learning American Sign Language using a Leap Motion sensor device. Shape your hand like the one on the screen, and the sensor determines if you’re correct, allowing you to practice more or progress to the next level.

UVM Computer Science Fair

Nguyen said she enjoyed the project so much — an assignment for her Human-Computer Interaction class — that she purchased a Leap Motion device of her own to keep on developing her program now that class is over.

It was her second presentation of the day. For her first, a website and database that lets users learn about, review and search for tea, she won a People’s Choice Award. She also attracted attention from Burlington Bytes, a website design and internet advertising firm and fair sponsor. She left the fair with a contact for a potential internship with the local company.

When asked if she was glad she took the time to participate in the fair, Nguyen’s answer was clear: “Oh yeah.”

Learn more about the fair and see the list of winning projects.

Amanda Kenyon Waite