ECU's ICT students complete senior capstones virtually

East Carolina University’s Information and Computer Technology students are used to solving problems. So despite the coronavirus social distancing rules and severe weather, they completed their senior capstone presentations on April 14.

Normally, students present their projects in person in a large auditorium with faculty, family and project sponsors attending. This year, students presented online using WebEx.

Dr. Charles Lesko, director of graduate studies and associate professor in the Department of Technology Systems, hosted the session beginning at 10 a.m., shortly after severe thunderstorms began to impact the area.

“Around 8 a.m., I started getting frantic emails from students indicating that some were having power outages due to the storm, and some were having trouble with their online connectivity,” Lesko said.

He said that instead of cancelling the online presentations, he decided to continue and catch up with those who had connectivity issues later.

“To my surprise, all of my seniors made the effort and were able to attend — even with the ongoing storm,” Lesko said. “Some with outages had to use cellphones or share mobile hotspots, but all were able to participate. It was just a tremendous effort all around by this senior class. I was very proud of them.”

ECU students work to install new computers and improve network technology as part of a senior IT capstone project at Building Hope, a nonprofit organization in Greenville. (Photo submitted by Nirav Mehta)

Forty-four seniors in nine capstone teams presented projects.

“As a senior-level course, students are expected to pool their educational foundation and demonstrate their ability to take a project from vision to implementation,” Lesko said of the projects. “Since this course builds from each student’s previous educational experiences, knowledge gleaned over the past years is brought to play in this course in a practical demonstration of cumulative growth and understanding within the IT field.

“In this course series, the students team together, identify their IT project, work with their client to solidify scope and other pertinent issues, and present their project proposal and plan both orally and in written form by the end of the fall semester. Once the team has presented its project and had it approved, the project is then executed by the team in the spring semester.”

With the coronavirus cutting deadlines short, students were either able to complete the projects, amend projects so they could be completed on time or provide sponsors with information to complete projects at a later date.

“My team and I had to expedite our project timeline in order to make sure we could complete the majority of our goals,” said student Nirav Mehta, the team lead on one of the projects. “A fellow team member, Elizabeth Rankin, and I actually cut some of our spring break short in order to complete the remaining objectives. We as a team were fortunate in that we had been ahead of our timeline and this allowed us to complete every objective of our project except for two.”

Mehta said that presenting the final project report in a virtual environment required adjustments on the part of the team members.

“The virtual aspect of the presentation made it difficult for me to communicate with my classmates while conducting our presentation since we could not use any non-verbal cues. It was also difficult to coordinate slide timings without visual cues from the speaker presenting,” Mehta said. “Other than the difficulties mentioned, the overall presentation seemed to go well as we IT majors have been taught to adapt and overcome technological issues.”

Eight of the nine capstone projects supported nonprofit organizations, with goals to upgrade computer networks, improve computer infrastructure, enhance cybersecurity, create websites and install an online live-stream system among the efforts.

“In support of ECU’s service-oriented creed, all but one of the capstone projects were supporting various nonprofit organizations throughout the east,” Lesko said. “All projects were IT-related, and the students worked directly with their organizational sponsors to define a scope of effort for their capstone experience.”