By: Renee Wah

Tech Team is proud to announce that we will be partnering with Unieros this spring quarter on a social media campaign. The team will be working on building stronger virtual relationships with youth and senior citizens through Unieros’ social media platforms.

Unieros is a Chicago-based multicultural events organizer that seeks to foster relationships both within the diverse cultures of Chicagoans and across cultural lines, following the “One Love” motto that is also the inspiration for its name.

The organization started online as a message board where people could post about different events happening across the city. In 2009, the popularity of the group led founder Christine Brown to build an entire organization focused on developing a community of engaged community members. Since then, Unieros has provided the first step for many friendships and even a few marriages!

Tech Team is excited to work with this vibrant organization to bring new faces to Unieros through engaging new audiences digitally and leverage real-life relationships through the connective tissue of social media. The campaign is designed to target two populations, youth and the elderly, that are not currently reached by Unieros. Together, we hope to broaden the scope of Unieros and enrich the experiences of its members.

This project comes at a particularly opportune time due to Tech Team’s involvement with social media in other branches of the organization. This quarter, Tech Team is also holding workshops at the Community Programs Accelerator about digital communication and social media for nonprofits. There’s never been a better time for Tech Team and Unieros!


Safe Schools

By: Adriana Rakshana

As part of TechTeam’s goal to support local organizations, over the Fall and Winter Quarter it has partnered with Safe Schools, an organization that focuses on supporting LGBTQ youth throughout Illinois. The Illinois Safe Schools Alliance envisions a world in which youth can develop into their fullest potential, learn in safe and nurturing schools, and live in communities that accept and honor differences, where everyone has the freedom to express their sexual orientation and gender identity. Eric Kim and his TechTeam cohort are working towards redesigning their website and integrating  social media into Safe School’s digital strategy. The target audience is  high school students and youth all over the state.

Apart from the overall goal towards improving the website for The Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, Eric is working towards teaching his cohort the use of HTML, CSS and Squarespace, different tools that aid in website development. The two-track approach helps the students learn the concepts and to apply them to community development in the non-profit and social sector.

TechTeam has identified that the main issue is an expert built website, that is not quite user-friendly. Thus, Safe Schools is not able to maintain and update the website as easily as they would like. TechTeam hopes to build a new design for the website to increase functionality and accessibility over a prolonged period of time. TechTeam also plans to create a forum for students to interact in, as well as make certain sensitive content password protected. We are working towards fulfilling The Safe Schools Alliance’s wishes to increase awareness of the resources they offer as well as the ability to contribute to their efforts through donations or other involvement. TechTeam hopes to have the project completed by March or April in time for Safe School’s Tenth Anniversary.

Bridges from School to Work

By: Sammy Zucker and Spencer Miner

Bridges from School to Work is an organization that helps connect students in special needs programs with employers. The program, funded by the Marriott Foundation, reduces barriers to entry by supporting students in the application process and providing them with job skills training. Bridges focuses on long-term employment and maintains a relationship with participants after the initial job-placement, advising participants on issues such as when to ask for a raise.

In the winter, TechTeam built a virtual mentor to help ease the burden on Bridges’ employer representatives (ERs). The mentor was designed to answer the students’ frequently asked questions. The students interact with the virtual mentor through a mobile app, which can filter responses based on the individual’s disability and personal attributes.

Bridges from School to Work has kept detailed records on current and past students. Part of TechTeam’s project was centered around designing a server and API to process the data and apply it to preferences in the mobile app. The API also receives the answers from the ERs which it pushes to the mobile app. The server team was led by third year and Computer Science and Physics major Christopher Walker.

Currently, a separate team led by Devshi Mehrotra, a second year Computer Science major in the college, is developing the mobile app aspect of the project.  The app will allow students to search for, filter, and save questions. It will be designed so that font styles, colors, and information layout are clear and accessible regardless of disability.   

The combination of the API and app will allow for easier and more streamlined communication between the students and their mentors.


Illinois JobLink

By: Evan Gorstein

Searching for a job online can sometimes feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. With countless search options and innumerable job opportunities, the Internet makes it difficult to even know where to begin.  Luckily, the online employment search may have just gotten a little easier--at least for residents of Illinois with a basic knowledge of API protocol.

This past fall, UChicago TechTeam worked on a project to make the vast amounts of employment data published by the the Illinois Department of Economic Development easier to navigate and access.  The Department’s job board, located at IllinoisJobLink.com, requires you to sign up for an account before you can even begin using their more advanced search features.  The process of signing up is itself quite cumbersome, and even with an account, the search options are not as helpful as you’d think.  Worse yet, because the repository of jobs is continuously updated, you are forced to repeatedly check the board to see when a job that meets your preferences and qualifications gets posted.    

Cue Tech Team, which this past fall, decided to devote a project to making the data easier to navigate.  Led by second year Subhodh Kotekal, the project team worked to develop a web scraping tool for extracting the relevant employment information from each job listing and storing it in a SQLite database.  If you’re like me, and you don’t know what SQLite is, what’s important to know is that this database interacts seamlessly with the programming language SQL.  Thus, anyone with a basic knowledge of SQL can use this database to fine tune their job searches and directly access countless employment opportunities without signing up for an account on IllinoisJobsLink.

The second stage of the project involved building an API to make this data even more accessible, as the API allows users to access data using only simple HTTP requests, filtering with query strings.  The next step of the project would be to store everything in a Google Fusion Table, a system that would allow for advanced visualization of the data and increase navigability.  Unfortunately, the sheer size of the data set made this impossible...at least for now.  You can learn more about the project and view the Python code for the data scraper and API at the project’s github repository, linked here.

TechTeam is constantly looking for ways to make public data more accessible to the public!  This is a task that should keep up busy for quarters to come.  


Sprouting Leaders

By: Nikki Kothari

A cursory glance at the current Sprouting Leaders website reflects a grassroots organization built from the ground up. Based in Pilsen, Sprouting Leaders is a volunteer-based, nonprofit organization dedicated to academic growth in Chicago’s disadvantaged communities. Their name comes from their mission statement: “Sprouting leaders within our communities. One seed at a time.” The organization hopes to transform youth into leaders through mentorship, education, and service.

Since the year 2012, Sprouting Leaders has volunteered 4556 hours and mentored 186 students. Between teaching students , they haven’t had time to update their website infrastructure. That’s why Sprouting Leaders has partnered with TechTeam.

The website already seems competent. It has information on the company, how to get involved, donation tabs, and is clearly updated often. However, its infrastructure is lacking.

The TechTeam project group, led by third-year, computer science major Julia Oran, is working towards a couple overreaching goals and improvements. By the end of winter quarter, they hope to make the sprouting leaders website bilingual for Spanish students and update the existing pages.

TechTeam’s main concern is sustainability. Although the project will come to an end, the results will be impactful and lasting. The project group considers the client’s capability for maintenance in each calculated change, and it is evident they are succeeding.

The current website was created on Wordpress. Wordpress offers a large variety of applications and plug ins which makes it difficult to find the best one for a project. The team is struggling to find a fitting application to convert the website from English to Spanish.

The team is considering options from different plug ins to hard coding. The goal is to make the website more accessible. Since most students working with Sprouting Leaders come from disadvantaged areas, it will greatly increase outreach along with a push for increased and integrated social media.

In addition, the events, news, and donations pages will be getting complete makeovers. The events will be linked to useful information, perhaps a calendar. The news page will host new blog posts and a revamped layout. Donations will be interactive to encourage greater amounts.

As the project continues, the current website has been left up as a placeholder. The team plans on releasing the website all at once.

In order to finish the project, the team is pulling together. Attendance has been consistent which is incredibly important for the continuity of a project and completing it on time. Julia praised “I got lucky with a really great team!”

She hopes to leave Sprouting Leaders with an end result that is helpful to their organization. The thought process that went into the design, accessibility, and straightforward attitude will result in a website that is not as technical, but ideal for clients without previous experience.

The Array of Things

By: Adriana Rakshana

On January 18th 2017, TechTeam organized an information forum about the pioneering Array of Things project recently launched in Chicago.

Argonne National Laboratory team members Charlie Catlett and Kate Kusiak Galvin talked about the Array of Things project, its current timeline and future plans for deployment. Over 50 students and researchers showed up to learn about the initiative.

So, what exactly is the Array of Things?

According to the Array of Things website, “The Array of Things (AoT) is an urban sensing project, a network of interactive, modular sensor boxes that will be installed around Chicago to collect real-time data on the city’s environment, infrastructure, and activity for research and public use. AoT will serve as a “fitness tracker” for the city, measuring factors that impact livability in Chicago such as climate, air quality and noise.”[1]

Essentially, the Array of Things (AoT) is a network of sensors that monitors different factors in the city’s environment and infrastructure, which can be used to analyze changes in trends over time.

Catlett explained that the AoT nodes have different components that collect different measurements, including air quality and weather data. This will provide place-based information to help engineers, scientists, policymakers and residents improve citizen life and create smarter cities.

Array of Things data will be open and freely available to the public. A central database server at the Argonne National Laboratory stores the data. Researchers and interested members of the public can use AoT data to develop new data analysis tools and applications. Additionally, policymakers can use data to inform urban planning.

Audience Questions

In response to questions from the audience, Catlett explained that the AoT nodes can be modified to collect a variety of different types of information. The nodes can help with any research or planning project that social scientists, policymakers and innovators can effectively fathom and develop.

Students also asked about the privacy of the data collected, given that camera sensors would be mounted on traffic lights around the city. Catlett emphasized that all image processing would take place within the node, and all data recorded would be non-identifying. A Technical Security and Privacy Group will regularly review the software and data being collected in order to maintain privacy.

What’s next?

The Array of Things gathers information about a city’s infrastructure, environment and potentially much more. This data can ultimately influence policy decisions and promote further scientific innovation. Array of Things data will be used to address energy efficiency, traffic safety, urban flooding, air pollution, and other urban challenges.

As a technological innovation, the Array of Things urban sensor network holds the potential to influence the lives of citizens at scale. It will reshape how we think about technology, and how we think about cities.

For more information on Array of Things, contact aot@uchicago.edu.

TechTeam Talks!

Welcome to TechTeam Talks! We hope to foster discussions about civic tech. Our postings will include information on projects the team is working on, civic tech news, events on and off campus, and anything else we find relevant. Blogs will be posted weekly from Tech Team’s ThinkTank members who are working to provide clients and students insight about our work. Feel free to contact us at uchicagotechteam@gmail.com or check out our website at uchicagotechteam.com.