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Creating Employment Resources for the Disabled

  College of Engineering and Applied Sciences Students Lauded for ‘Bee Notified’

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 1, 2018) – When it came time for the computer engineering seniors at UAlbany to select a capstone project, the students of the class of 2018 were determined to do something different. They embarked on a mission to develop innovative technology that could create employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. As they gear up for graduation on May 20, their year-long effort has proven to be rewarding in several ways.

From the outset, the team of four students, Andrew Boggio-Dandry; Anthony Castro, Egzon Shehu and Steven Yoo, found valuable partners in the New York State Industries for the Disabled (NYSID) and Living Resources, two agencies whose mission is to improve the lives of persons with disabilities (PWDs).

“As we learned about NYSID and Living Resources, we were moved by their mission: to assist PWDs in obtaining gainful employment,” said Jonathan Muckell, a professor of practice in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and mentor to the seniors. “Many of these individuals have the strong desire to work and are indeed capable of working, but the barriers they encounter often prevent them from being hired. We hope to effect a real and positive change in their lives by leveraging technology to help bridge the gap.”

They developed a tool to help persons with disabilities gain employment by providing reminders and streamlining time management. They dubbed their project “Bee Notified,” in recognition of the industrious creatures that, despite their size, are remarkable workers, capable of producing vast quantities of delicious honey that is enjoyed by millions of people around the world.

“The UAlbany ‘Bee Notified’ capstone design team has set a standard for others to follow,” said College of Engineering and Applied Sciences Dean Kim Boyer. “Their work is not just a technical achievement; it also exemplifies the College mission of “Science in Service to Society.”  We are extraordinarily proud of them, and look forward to following their successes as they move into the next stage of their careers. And I am personally grateful to Professor Muckell for his inspiration, hard work, and dedication.”

Engineering Students celebrate winning $5,000 for the App to help persons living with disabilities
From left, Egzon Shehu, Anthony Castro, Jennifer Sanderson of Living Resources, Jonathan Muckell, Andrew Boggio-Dandry and Steven Yoo.

The students developed an application capable of storing upcoming calendar events for a user, such as a work shift, and notify them when they should prepare for the event. These notifications are designed to help the user stay on task when preparing for events so they can get to where they need to be on time.

Unlike other calendar based applications, Bee Notified will recognize the user’s location and compare it with their expected location as determined from calendar events. If a user doesn’t arrive at their expected location at the expected time, administrators are then notified.

The project was entered in the CREATE Symposium, where on April 25th, the team earned third place and a check for $5,000 for their efforts. NYSID launched CREATE to encourage assistive technology innovation for New Yorkers with disabilities in order to remove barriers from the workplace. CREATE (Cultivating Resources for Employment with Assistive TEchnology) brings undergraduate and graduate engineers from colleges and universities within New York State together with community rehabilitation agencies to create new and inspiring technologies and devices which improve lives and livelihoods.

"The UAlbany students on the Bee Notified team worked very hard to choose a project that would best meet the vocational needs for the people served by Living Resources,” said Brian Bateman, manager of marketing for the New York State Industries for the Disabled. “I saw firsthand how their determination and creativity developed a system that will directly benefit the work lives of people with disabilities — a population that currently sees a 70 percent unemployment rate in New York.”

“It has been a delight to work with the student engineers,” said Fred Erlich, founder and CEO of Living Resources. “They are each truly brilliant and attentive. They took the time to listen to what is a barrier for some of our students who identify as developmentally disabled, and I think they have created a product that will hopefully be true assets to this population of individuals. In our discussions, they listened and asked probing questions to really understand the population we work with and from that have been able to adapt what we have said into a product that is really individualized to the scheduling needs of each person.”

Erlich, who received his bachelor’s degree in 1969, followed by his MSW in 1972 and MBA in 1994 from UAlbany, received the excellence in public service alumni award in 2016 for his work to provide a means for thousands of individuals with disabilities to grow and flourish, and for inspiring students and lending his voice across multiple community organizations.

The students were equally grateful for the experience and exceptional support provided by NYSID and Living Resources.

“From the outset, the dedicated team of people at both NYSID and Living Resources have been receptive to our questions and supportive of our ideas,” said Castro. “It has been really fantastic to work with them and experience the support they have for their student program. The staff took time out of their day to speak with us whenever we needed feedback or had questions. In these conversations, we were able to hear some of the stories of disabled clients who had their lives changed by the organization, as well as feedback on the positive aspects of the Bee Notified system and possible improvements.”

Next up for the students is the “Celebration of Scholarship” event at UAlbany this afternoon  in the Campus Center Multi-Purpose Room, followed by the undergraduate commencement ceremony on May 20. And after that?

"I am planning to continue my studies at UAlbany in a graduate program. I can't wait to learn more about the engineering field that I love, and eventually be able to help people in need with the knowledge I acquire,” said Yoo.

“As I wrap up my undergraduate education, I'm looking forward to starting my Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering,” said Boggio-Dandry. “I hope, one day, to teach in the mathematics or computer science areas.”

"Once I graduate in May, I'm hoping to be able to find a startup company close to my home (Brooklyn) looking to hire me as a computer engineer,” said Shehu.

“I have been actively applying to businesses in the local area that can utilize the software development, IT, and computer engineering skills I have gained. I hope to work for a business that can leverage technology to benefit the local community, global community or anywhere in between,” said Castro.

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