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IT Educators At Local Universities Direct Efforts Toward COVID-19 Tech Challenges

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
The campus of Carlow University in Oakland.

Information Technology professors at Pittsburgh universities are finding innovative ways to serve the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Carlow University assistant professor Mary Onufer taught classes with volunteer components before the pandemic, and last semester her class worked to help clients connect with counselors. 

Onufer said Pittsburgh Mercy saw some clients struggle to make counseling appointments because they didn’t have a smartphone, a good enough data plan, or the ability to use Zoom and other related programs. While there were in-person sites for clients to meet with the counselors, some did not want to risk their health by taking public transportation. Students in Onufer’s class analyzed the problem, researched solutions, and proposed their ideas to the hospital. 

“When they're done with their presentation and they have these real live professional people give them feedback on what they've proposed, it's really powerful for them.”

Computer and Information Systems professor Peter Wu at Robert Morris University said he worked on a research paper highlighting certain problems caused by the pandemic. Wu had been researching data analytics using maps and geographic information. He grappled with the need for maintaining privacy, while trying to highlight problems like where to put vaccination clinics or treatment centers.

“The interesting thing is that we do not need to have an optimal solution. It has to be reasonably optimal and we work with it so that your paper gets solutions to different companies,” Wu said. 

While Wu’s research focused on identifying problems, other researchers could use it as a stepping stone to find solutions.

*This story has been updated.