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An app with all the answers

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Wouldn’t it be great if there were an easy way to find out the dinner menu in Stav Hall, if Skoglund was still open and where Flaten House is located? Well, now, there’s an app for that. On Sunday, Nov. 28, an ambitious and self-motivated Ole released a new iPhone application for St. Olaf students called All About Olaf. Drew Volz ’16, a computer science major, is working to make campus-relevant information and news more easily accessible for St. Olaf students.

Volz began developing the application during his sophomore summer. After completing a few summer courses he was looking for a project to fill the remaining month before returning to the Hill.

“I thought that I would like to try getting involved in iPhone programming,” said Volz. “It really started out as a white screen. I wasn’t anticipating for this project to become this big.”

He began creating a map of the St. Olaf campus, which featured labeled campus buildings, residence halls and houses. A GPS feature allowed users to view their current location with respect to their destination. From there, the project grew to include other useful tools to improve student life on the Hill.

Now, almost a year after the project began, Volz has developed a fully functional iPhone application that students can download directly from the iTunes App Store. The app also provides instant access to the St. Olaf Directory, the Student Information System SIS and three college news sites, among other things. Do you need to look at the bus schedule? The app has it. Do you need the number for Safe Ride? The app has it. Do you want to check out the “Hi Mom Camera” live feed? You guessed it: the app has it.

One of the most useful features of the app is the “Schedules” tab. Not only does it include links to the hours of operation for the main buildings on campus, but it also features a stoplight indicator that tells users at a glance if the building or service of interest is open.

“I was tired of getting to the Caf and finding out it was closed,” Volz said. “A lot of this app was inspired by a bunch of little pet peeves like that.”

Volz was intentional about collecting feedback before making All About Olaf available to the public. A test group of 19 peers downloaded the app several months ago and has been providing Volz with useful, constructive criticism.

“Their feedback has helped develop and shape the app, and smoothing out some of the problems has given it a much better chance of success,” he said.

The test group’s suggestions have helped Volz improve and refine the app. From fixing a glitch when accessing SIS, to adding a twenty minute warning feature to the “Schedules” tab, Volz has made several savvy alterations over the past few months. Additionally, Volz has sought advice from several of St. Olaf’s faculty and staff in hopes of targeting student needs.

“It has been a journey because I have spoken to so many administrators here,” Volz said. “They have all contributed ideas. Everyone had something in mind for the app, and through gathering people’s different ideas the project came together the way it did.”

Currently, the application is not officially supported by or associated with the college. Volz has agreed not to use any official logos. Because the college did not sponsor the creation of the app, it is unlikely that it will adopt it for official use. Regardless, as Volz hoped, students are finding the application useful.

“It has so many resources that I frequently use – SIS, the directory, the Stav menu, etc. – all in one place, and that place is on my phone, which I nearly always have on me,” Madisen Egan ’16 said.

Although he currently works five jobs, with Webmaster for Student Activities Committee SAC being one of them, Volz developed this application completely on his own time. His main goal was to make a useful app, and he has therefore decided to offer it free of charge.

“I’ve been doing this all on my own. I’ve put this much work into it and I want people to use it,” said Volz. “I don’t want to charge people for it. If I put it out there for money, it is almost like not putting it out there at all.”

At this time, it appears that All About Olaf is off to a successful start. In the first day and a half of availability, the app received 356 downloads and 10 five-star ratings. Within the first five days, it had been downloaded 625 times. In only one day, the All About Olaf Facebook page garnered 110 likes.

Volz has several plans for future improvements. Although he already went through the tedious process of reviewing, editing and uploading every individual entry in the St. Olaf dictionary, he hopes to create a submission section for students to record other Olaf-specific vocabulary. He is also working on making the map searchable and more interactive, in hopes that it will be useful for visiting students and alumni alike. Additionally, Volz is considering working out an “Ole Offers” tab, which would allow local businesses to advertise and offer deals for students.

“I hope it helps people,” said Volz. “That is the end goal: to make people more informed about what is going around them. Providing news and information is definitely the purpose of the app – but if being more informed ties us together in some way, that would be a great thing that could happen.”

Download All About Olaf for free from the iTunes App Store, and check out the companion Web site, which explains several features of the app in detail: http://www.drewvolz.com/all-about-olaf/.

mihelich@stolaf.edu