Programming a better world: Computer science prof and students share tech savvy with community

Shreya Kumar

Shreya Kumar, assistant teaching professor in Computer Science and Engineering, is a software engineer with a special interest in sharing computer know-how to make the world a better place.

Prof. Kumar teaching in front of a class

Her class, CSE Service Projects, delivers technology-based solutions—websites, apps, visualizations of data — for nonprofits and the people they serve. 

Over one or two semesters, teams of four to seven students establish relationships with community clients to develop software solutions to meet each organization’s particular challenge.

Students in Kumar’s class have helped make a volunteer management portal for the United Way; client tracking system for Hannah’s House; eye tracking input software for people with disabilities; interactive map to help visualize data on poverty across neighborhoods; and a health and activity phone app for older adults. 

Current projects include creating data visualizations for a researchers working to prevent child maltreatment; analyzing data for homelessness solutions; and building an app that makes it easier for social workers to report on gang violence. 

“Most of the software and apps students and developers build, they’ve built for computer-savvy people like themselves,” said Kumar. 

“In this class we focus on understanding how important it is to be empathetic to the actual end user, who might not be tech savvy and just needs the app to get their work done.” 

Understanding the needs of digital novices is one of her long-standing interests. When still a graduate student, she participated in help sessions for older adults at a local library, and the experience helped her to understand what keeps some people from using computers.  

“So much of the barrier is not a lack of ability,” said Kumar. “It’s a lack of confidence, because people may feel the technology is not really meant for them. But if there’s someone sitting next to them, encouraging them, they’ll try it.”  

Prof. Kumar meeting with a group of 5 students in the classroom

One of the student consulting teams in Kumar’s current class shares their computer skills with older adults at the Robinson Community Learning Center, a Notre Dame educational initiative for South Bend’s Northeast Neighborhood. 

Student from Professor Kumar’s class helping an older community member with her laptop.
Students from Professor Kumar’s class helping older community members with their devices

Sophomore Mariana Gonzalez Bejar described her experience with one older community member: “I’ve seen her progress with online transactions and apps like Cash App. Last class, she showed me how she made a transaction on her own, and I was really excited to hear about it.” 

Students say the class has inspired them to continue sharing their computer skills with others. Senior Daraius Balsara said, “I’ve found the experience to be extremely rewarding. I hope to continue dedicating my time to outreach beyond graduation.” 

— Karla Cruise, Notre Dame College of Engineering