Four UAlbany Students Impress NY's Metropolitan Transportation Authority with New High-Tech Reporting Design

UAlbany students prepare to enter MTA headquarters in NYC before their final presentation. With CTG's Derek Werthmuller, fourth from left, are, left to right, Seth Lasky, Greg Venech, Daniel McKenna, and Ping Li.

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 22, 2014) — Four University at Albany College of Computing and Information (CCI) students applied their newly acquired skills in a professional setting via a data visualization project for New York State's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).

The senior undergrads, Greg Venech, Seth Lasky and Daniel McKenna, as well as graduate student Ping Li, teamed up on a project at UAlbany’s Center for Technology in Government (CTG) to create a prototype design that would transform a selection of monthly tabular reports used by the MTA into more compelling, interactive, and visually informative web-based formats.

The project culminated in a well-received presentation by the students to the MTA staff at their corporate office in NYC. “The opportunity to present to a major company, and to have the company's executives be impressed with our work, was a great feeling,” said Lasky.

Featuring open source software and open data strategies in the design and development of the visualization prototypes, the project was conducted under the guidance of Derek Werthmuller, CTG’s director of Technology Innovation and Services, and Jim Costello, CTG’s web application developer. Using sample MTA reports and datasets provided to develop more usable visualizations, the students created at-a-glance comparisons across yearly, monthly and daily time periods to help identify trends and make projections.

Regular interaction with the MTA through online conferencing gave the students confidence in both their presentation and communication skills. MTA users, at the same time, were given the ability to interact with the visualizations by changing the display types — such as scatterplots, 10-year timelines, and line, column, pie and bubble charts — or choosing different parameters to customize the display.

Throughout the project, the students learned about and implemented sound design and development principles and were exposed to advanced database design and front-end web markup. They also got a taste of “big data” in dealing with datasets involving tens of millions of records.

“This project has definitely made me consider a career in data visualization,” said Venech. “The environment at CTG is like none other and provided me a great place to transition into a real work environment.”

Each of the students pointed to the new technical and project management skills they learned over the course of the project as an important part of their time at CTG. The experiences they valued most, however, were the opportunities to work and professionally develop code as a team, and to provide value to the MTA. “I am proud to have worked with kind and respectful colleagues, and will remember the time I have spent on this project for years to come,” said McKenna.

The students believe their experience at CTG will positively impact their future plans. “I came to CTG with an interest in database administration and program development,” said McKenna. “My experience here has given me a greater view on these topics and I definitely wish to find new opportunities for both subjects in the future.”

“The most valuable aspect is that we created real value, for real enterprise,” said Ping Li. “At the same time, we practiced skills we learned at school. I can sum up my experience as: team work, communication skills and passion!”

The students received their degrees this past weekend; Venech, Lasky, and McKenna earned course credit for their CTG work as part of the undergraduate internship course in CCI’s Department of Computer Science.

“Throughout the course of this project, we were impressed with how well the students’ respective UAlbany programs have served them,” said Werthmuller. “They were well prepared and eager to learn new skills to take on the challenging tasks of the project, easily moving between team and individual work. While we wish that they were here longer, we know their hard work and passion will lead them all to promising careers.”

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A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany-SUNY offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciencesbusiness, public health, health sciences, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare, and sociology taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.