New space for computer science students aimed at facilitating teamwork

Students in Terry Harvey’s software engineering class at the University of Delaware spend a lot of time designing their projects for course client, Maggie Pletta of Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

Now, they have the perfect meeting place — the SPARC (Student Project Arena for Research and Collaboration) Lab in 210 Smith Hall.

On Tuesday, Sept. 20, the ribbon was cut on the new facility, which features inspiring quotes on the wall, rolling whiteboards, comfortable furniture, and screens for sharing ideas.

“Over the past 10 years, our teaching approach has evolved from individual programming projects to collaborative, project-based courses, from the introductory level all the way up to our capstone experience,” says Kathleen McCoy, professor and chair of the Department of Computer and Information Sciences.

In addition, students and faculty in the department have developed organizations and regular events that encourage students to collaborate on software projects outside the classroom, including clubs, hackathons, game design and outreach activities, technical workshops, and informal programming sessions.

The SPARC Lab supports all of these activities in an easily reconfigurable space that accommodates individual, one-on-one, and small- and large-group activities. It is accessible by card key at all times.

Kevin Jones, a senior computer science major, is a board member of UD’s Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) student chapter. “We’ve been working to get students to collaborate, so it’s great having a space where they can start to recognize each other and get ideas going,” he says.

McCoy envisions the SPARC Lab providing valuable opportunities for students to learn how to work together and “become good computer scientists.”

“I think we’re going to see great things coming out of this space,” she says. “It will be a place where a lot of good work will get done.”

The committee that designed the space was chaired by Lori Pollock, Alumni Distinguished Professor of Computer and Information Sciences, and included Harvey, associate professor of computer and information sciences; Stephen Siegel, also an associate professor in the department; and department business administrator Gregory Lynch.

With additional input from students, their goal was to create a welcoming atmosphere that would encourage collaboration, learning, and a feeling of community.

Danielle Wegrzyn, who is double majoring in computer science and visual communications, provided artwork for the outside door that encourages students to come in and be part of the community.