Real-life learning: UWM students build mobile apps for nonprofits (Sponsored Report)

“Students want to use the device that we all have in our back pocket as a way of potentially making a difference,” says Michael Hostad, reaching for his cell phone.

That’s why, when students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) asked for a course in mobile app development, faculty established the Mobile Innovation Lab, says Hostad, UWM director of Web and Mobile Strategies.

The lab is a first-of-its kind place where students apply their app development learning to actual projects for area nonprofits. Course work is offered by the UWM School of Information Studies, but students staffing the lab come from diverse majors – business, computer science and arts, to name a few.

“These are real-world projects for very real clients,” said Aaron Hartwig, a sophomore in engineering who worked in the lab last spring. “You don’t feel like you’re at a university when you’re in these meetings. You feel like you’re working for some company.”

One of the first projects the students undertook was a mobile app for users of Milwaukee County services.

Getting that direct experience in a growing field translates into real earning potential, says Anthony Jesmok, a sophomore majoring in business and information studies.

“The moment you walk onto the campus, there is already this opportunity to help make sure that when you graduate, you’ll be able to start a career right away,” says Jesmok.

The lab, also called the “App Brewery” because of its location at the former Pabst Brewery complex, is just one of many hands-on, out-of-the-classroom learning opportunities found at UWM.

When you combine resources of Wisconsin’s commercial, cultural and financial center with those of a major research university, UWM students have access to internships, industry and community partnered research and jobs that only a major city offers.

Professional internships can be found at some of the area’s largest companies –  Northwestern Mutual, Harley-Davidson, the Milwaukee Art Museum and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin to name a few.
“Being the only sports intern at a new station is like being the only student in a classroom,” says Anthony Atkins, a senior in broadcast journalism who has interned at WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee. “Every day I’m getting advice and feedback from people in the industry.”

Taylor Jackson, a junior finance major from Johnsburg, Ill., is thankful she came to the city from a small farming community. Otherwise she wouldn’t be interning at Robert W. Baird & Co. “Now I’m working for one of America’s top finance companies, and I honestly couldn’t be more excited,” says Jackson. “Spread your wings. There’s no end to the support you’ll find at UWM.”

With more than 90 percent of UWM’s graduates remaining in the Milwaukee area, our alumni provide a huge network that helps our students plug into the largest job market in Wisconsin.

Another experience that not only augments classroom learning, but gives students the chance to network in their fields is undergraduate research.

The Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) matches interested students with a faculty mentor. Students can begin their research as soon as the summer before their freshman year, says Kyla Esguerra, associate director of OUR.

This jump-start on exploring research was one of the reasons Ryan Frazier chose to come to UWM.

Because the lab position provides him with a part-time job in his field of study, it is more like an internship experience, says Frazier, a Mequon native.

And though not all the undergraduate research positions are paid, they do offer a rare chance to gain exposure to more than one discipline and help students stand out when job-hunting after graduation.

“There are opportunities to work in a lab that lies outside of a student’s major, says Esguerra. Biological Sciences major Praveen Ghosh, for example, is working on protein-imaging research in the lab of Physics Professor Valerica Raicu.

“We also have had a computer science student work with a visual arts professor, programming software for an interactive art exhibit,” she says, “and an engineering student create microfluidic chips for a faculty member in freshwater sciences to use to study microorganisms’ behavior under various conditions.”

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