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Students' Auction Technology Helps Raise Record Funds for Charity

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When the Kiwanis Club of Westfield, MA, conducted its annual fund-raising auction this March in the Westfield State College television studio some amazing things happened. Bids appeared instantly on screen so everyone watching the auction on the Comcast community access channel could see updates immediately.

There were no questions of who had gotten their bid in first, and video meshed perfectly with the new software created by Westfield State College Computer and Information Science students.

Well, almost perfectly—the maiden launch of the new system had a slight glitch that delayed the start of the auction for a few minutes. But that glitch turned out to be a mistake in one line (out of some 20,000 lines) of code, which was feverishly found and fixed directly.

Once that was discovered and fixed, "it worked like a champ for the remaining seven hours of the auction," says George Delisle, former Kiwanis president and auction chairman. The auction was the club's most successful ever.

"Last year was a record year and we raised $35,000," Delisle says. "This year it was almost $41,000 and to do that in this economy is probably amazing!"

"I can't say enough about what the Computer and Information Science Department has done for us and is doing for us," Delisle says. "Mark St. Jean [coordinator of video production and television operations] and his staff were working hand and glove with the computer science folks. So it looked good and it was fast and accurate, as well."

The program also was streamed live over the Internet.

"Great things can happen when the college and a community group like Kiwanis work together on a major project," says Evan S. Dobelle, president of Westfield State. "In this case Kiwanis raised a record amount of funds to help the community and our students gained valuable hands-on experience in creating an impressive piece of software."

Delisle says other Kiwanis clubs have conducted auctions that were far less successful because of the costs involved in staging them. Kiwanis gave a $1,000 donation to the Computer and Information Science Department in appreciation for its work. Proceeds from the auction benefit many parts of the community through Kiwanis charitable projects helping both children and the elderly.

Current Kiwanis President, Christine L. Roncolato, says Greater Westfield businesses also supported this year's auction at record levels.

Software as a Service

Delisle and Kiwanis member Michael Monahan approached James Carabetta, chair of the Computer and Information Science Department, last year requesting the college's assistance in creating software that could improve the auction.

Three Computer Information Systems students, Tri Chau, Michael Pray and Nicholas Meszaros, took on the challenge as their senior capstone project. Aaron Childs, network administrator of the Information Technology Department, and St. Jean helped with operational details.

Carabetta oversaw the students' work and this year, seniors Kevin Nickl and Martina Desnoyers joined the project team, replacing graduates Chau and Pray. "The original incarnation was written last spring and the students this year picked up from last year and got it to the point where it was fully functional," Carabetta says.

"It is truly a major piece of software, as robust as anything that might be found commercially," he says. "There is a level of sophistication that is probably unmatched by almost any other auction you might see. In fact, it is actually two systems—one that does the immediate auction day activities, and another that gathers and maintains information about bidders, donors, and auction items prior to the auction, handles reporting after the auction, and deals with security and other functions."

"When someone posted a bid, it was displayed within a 10th of a second and nobody else could make that same bid," Carabetta says. "It cleared up all those types of issues, such as who called in first?"

"In addition to a powerful server located in the Computer and Information Science Department area—located a half-campus away from the auction studio—we also brought a dozen laptop computers to the television studio to run the system," he says.

However, the Computer and Information Science Department is not resting on its laurels. Carabetta says the students are continuing to tweak the software. Among other things, they are updating the code to create a more portable application, and reevaluating project goals in anticipation of a long-term plan to combine the two current systems in a single, comprehensive software solution.


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