Working with industry during COVID-19: BCIT Computing students help non-profit organization improve operations efficiency

For BCIT Computing students who are adaptable and accustomed to solving complex problems, the transition to a primarily online educational delivery model did not disrupt their applied learning experience. During the COVID-19 pandemic, students Emily DeLisle, Ciara Southgate, Robert Vu, and Bryan Zhang took on a computing industry project to help Pathfinder Youth Centre Society (PYCS) improve their operations efficiency. Not only did this help them gain practical experience during their studies, they were also giving back to the community.

Pathfinder Youth Centre Society seeks support from BCIT Industry Sponsored Student project

Retired Canadian Football League player Orville Lee and seasoned office administrator Ruth Lee never imagined their passion in helping others would eventually transform into a non-profit organization that has helped thousands of at-risk youth ages 15-30 in the Lower Mainland to reach their full potential.

As co-founders of Pathfinder Youth Centre Society, Ruth and Orville first opened the organization in Richmond in 2002 to fill a gap in the system for youth who needed mentorship and support to gain life and employment skills. Although Ruth and Orville think of PYCS as a “mom-and-pop shop”, Although Ruth and Orville think of PYCS as a “mom-and-pop shop”, the organization has quickly grown to include a staffing team of 25, a 24-hour mentorship service, and an in-house food and clothes bank. It supports an average of 100 youth from across the Metro Vancouver each year. They’re also attaining a success rate of 85% for youth employment or entry to post-secondary education following successful completion of the program.

This growth pushed Ruth and Orville to seek a better data management system to support their organization’s operations. With all available options in the market being too expensive and generic for their needs, Ruth’s friend recommended the BCIT Industry Sponsored Student Projects program (ISSP) for a personalized and affordable solution.

Working with BCIT students to create solutions for industry tech challenges

Working with industry during COVID-19 BCIT Computing students help non-profit organization improve operations efficiency 02
Celebrating students who have graduated from the program at the Pathfinder Youth Centre Society.

The BCIT ISSP program provides students with real-life experience by working on IT or software development projects for a real client. The project with PYCS was a natural fit for Emily, Ciara, Robert, and Bryan’s skillset and interest.

This project started during the COVID-19 pandemic, yet in the span of two months, the team of BCIT students collaborated via Zoom and worked remotely to build a centralized, customized, and advanced data management system that integrated into the PYCS website.

“When we first got the project description, it seemed like a pretty straightforward task, which meant we could put our time and effort into making sure it was done really well. Knowing that Pathfinder Youth Centre Society would be relying heavily on the system we designed and built, it was really important to us to make sure it was reliable, functional, and secure,” explained Ciara.

“It was crucial for us to create a system that needed little to no maintenance once we were finished with the project, because while the tools they had been using weren’t quite meeting all their needs, they did work. We didn’t want to hand over a tool to them that would end up causing more problems than it would solve down the line, added Emily.

In the end, the BCIT students created a system that allowed the PYCS team to allocate their efforts on program participants instead of spending tremendous time managing data and paperwork. Emily shared, “It was really rewarding working for a non-profit like Pathfinder Youth Centre Society that does so much for young people in need.”

“The system has increased the efficiency and accuracy of our operations. We are now able to quickly generate and retrieve statistical data and reports for our industry and government partners, whereas before we would need to muddle through all the paper and files that we had in our system,” said Ruth Lee. “I’ve already reapplied to work with BCIT ISSP again. The students were so professional, focused, and tenacious. I would 100% recommend organizations, especially non-profit organizations with limited budget, to work with BCIT ISSP if you are dealing with a challenge that could use a tech solution.”

The ISSP program is an important educational component and is of mutual benefit to industry sponsors and students. Examples of project areas include web development, mobile development, games, augmented reality or virtual reality, machine learning, and more. Types of suitable computing projects can include problem-solving, proof-of-concept, engineering, or research and development. Projects from any industry are welcome for consideration.

Calling all industry: do you have a tech challenge for BCIT students?

BCIT is seeking industry projects for its Computing students to work on. If you have a tech challenge, please consider submitting it to the BCIT Industry Sponsored Student Project program. ISSP is a low-risk and low-cost approach to an industry sponsor’s tech project. Industry sponsors work with skilled and driven BCIT Computing students in creating viable solutions for their tech challenges. Project participation fee is waived for non-profit organizations. Learn more about working with ISSP, including the upcoming ISSP project submission deadline on July 30.

(All photo credit: Pathfinder Youth Society Centre)

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