Navigating Campus from the Palm of Your Hand
Michael Vanderpool’s Smartphone App Lets Users Plan, Schedule and Map Their Week from a Single Device
Thousands of new and returning students arrive in Moscow every year, and their enthusiasm is unmistakable. They’re ready for the Vandal experience.
To improve new student experiences, the College of Business and Economics (CBE) surveys freshmen about their first year at the University of Idaho, said Erick Larson, CBE student engagement director.
“Two things stood out in our latest survey. Students want a map of campus that’s smartphone-friendly. They also want to manage their school schedule and social life from that same device,” Larson said.
Student Michael Vanderpool, of Twin Falls, agrees. With classes, activities and Greek Life events spread across campus, mapping his day out is important.
“U of I’s online map pre-dates smartphones,” said Vanderpool. “Students can locate buildings on campus, but they’re unable to see how long it takes to walk from yoga class in the Student Recreation Center to Starbucks. It’s not designed for directions that specific.”
Solving Outside Problems Inside the Classroom
Vanderpool is enrolled in an application development class where students build campus-based smartphone apps. He and his classmates created an app with a user-friendly campus map and scheduler.
“The biggest improvement is Vandal Maps’ routes don’t rely only on streets like the current map, but include campus sidewalks and foot traffic paths,” Vanderpool said. “This creates more travel routes and methods, including on foot, bike and longboard.”
Building Vandal Maps
Vanderpool’s app is built with visual coding, a series of blocks rather than script. The size, shape and color of each block identifies the information tagged to it. Vanderpool drags and stacks blocks vertically until the visual code gives him the results he wants.
“Some blocks are tagged with information about classes and activities, as well as day, time and location data,” Vanderpool said. “Other blocks give users a map with directions from one class or activity block to the next.”
Teamwork Endures Because it Works
Vandal Maps operates in real time, offering users up-to-date campus maps and directions. But coding apps to run live is challenging since there’s a lot happening at once.
Changing the time of a fraternity meeting on Vanderpool’s calendar tells Vandal Maps to import the new meeting time, offload the old one, update the map and display new routes across campus.
Despite spending hours trying to figure it out, Vanderpool was stuck on how to get the app to update all the information at once.
“Working on an app no one has built before means there’s no how-to videos or blog posts to follow. The answer isn’t in a book,” Vanderpool said. “I finally turned to the rest of the team for help.”
Another student in the group solved a similar problem for a different project and shared his work.
“Adapting my teammate’s code to fit our project’s need actually worked,” Vanderpool said. “When I changed the time of a fraternity meeting on my calendar Vandal Maps told me where I needed to be next, showed me the best way to get there and did it in real time.
“This was a real learning moment for me about asking for help and looking to your team for answers. Teammates should be the first people you go to for help, not the last.”
More than a Mapping App
Not all of the teams original ideas are in the final app.
“Some couldn’t be developed because of limitations in technology. Others would’ve taken longer than a semester to complete,” Vanderpool said. “When we had to come up with new ideas for the app, I was surprised how many the group and I had.”
As a freshman I had no idea I’d be building smartphone apps. I wasn’t even a business major when I first came to Moscow. Now I’m interested in every aspect of it. Michael Vanderpool
One idea involved campus safety. Vandal Maps gives students direct access to the university’s Public Safety and Security webpage. Students can find emergency contact information for all U of I campuses, report safety concerns and access I-Safety, an online center for safety updates and resources.
“Users can also call campus security, the Moscow Police Department and 911 directly from the app,” Vanderpool said. “We all feel safe, and have been safe, here in Moscow and on campus. We want the city and university to stay that way.”
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The Future of Vandal Maps
Vanderpool sees room for the app to grow even with the campus safety additions complete. “Associated Students University of Idaho wants to continue developing Vandal Maps, possibly as an internship,” Lori Baker-Eveleth, professor of management information systems, said. “Apps require routine updates and fixes, so an intern dedicated to Vandal Maps each semester is a great idea.”
Handing off Vandal Maps to an intern reminds Vanderpool of himself. Like an app, he’s not static.
“As a freshman I had no idea I’d be building smartphone apps in college,” Vanderpool said. “I wasn’t even a business major when I first came to Moscow. Now I’m interested in every part of it.”
Curious and ready to learn, thousands of new and returning students like Vanderpool come to Moscow every year. They’re not static, either. They’re ready to explore their future, discover new interests and join the U of I family. These students are ready for their Vandal experience, and the enthusiasm they bring is unmistakable.
Article by Ross Wulf, College of Business and Economics
Videography by Kara Billington and Will Knecht, University Communications and Marketing
Photos provided by Michael Vanderpool
Published in June 2021