Saint Louis University professor uses $700K grant to launch new software development center – The Business Journals

After having taught computer science at Saint Louis University for four years, Assistant Professor Kate Holdener said something has started to bother her. Holdener, who teaches classes in software engineering, says graduate students complete a two-semester capstone course that involves developing software projects. But after those projects are finished, they usually end up on the shelf.
“They spend a lot of time and effort building some software, but it kind of ends up being useless in a way because they just do it for a class and it doesn’t go any further,” Holdener said. “In some cases, it does become useful because we’ll actually build software for other faculty. But the students finish, they graduate, move on and it ends. With software, if you want to continue, it needs maintenance. It needs support.”
Holdener believes she’s found the solution to that problem, securing a two-year, $704,482 grant from the New York-based Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to create the Saint Louis University Open Source Software Center. The new center is designed to give greater utility to student software projects and also enhance the software development services available to faculty across all disciplines at SLU.
“Those capstone projects no longer become work in isolation. They become part of this organization,” Holdener said.
The new open-source software center also will allow SLU faculty members, and potentially those at other universities, the opportunity to request software to be developed for their own research projects and give SLU students a chance to work with them to create and maintain those products.
Holdener envisions the new center as “almost like a little company within the university,” serving as an in-house software development shop for faculty. She said that approach will give students more real-world experience than just their class projects. In addition to graduate students, the new center also plans to incorporate undergraduate students into its operations.
“The projects will come in and the graduate students will work to split them into smaller tasks so pieces of the project can be handled by students at various skill levels,” Holdener said.
With its company-like approach, Holdener said she believes SLU’s new software engineering lab will help bolster the resumes of its students, making them more competitive in securing entry-level jobs.
“That way they can put on their resume that they have some experience with software development. Even with the entry-level jobs, (employers) want experience,” said Holdener, who worked for 10 years at St. Louis-based financial trading technology company Exegy Inc. prior to joining SLU.
As it ramps up operations, SLU’s new Open Source Software Center is currently hiring for a program director, who will manage its daily operations and seek out a long-term financial blueprint for the new entity.
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