The original idea was to convince the university to hire an outside vendor to build a comprehensive database of research opportunities for undergraduates, but Keenan Wyrobek, Ravi Kavasery and the other students who came up with the idea encountered a roadblock: Everyone they talked to about the project loved the idea, but no one thought they should have to pay for it.
"It was frustrating," said Kavasery, a senior electrical engineering major from Coram, N.Y. "About every administrator we talked to said, 'It's great, but why do you see my department doing this?'"
"Basically," said Wyrobek, a senior mechanical engineering major from Walnut Creek, Calif., "everybody wanted it, but no one wanted to pay for it."
The thought of building the site themselves never crossed their minds until they presented the database idea to Roger Ghanem, a professor of civil engineering, who shocked the students by stating, "This looks good. When are you going to start on it?"
Neither Kavasery, Wyrobek or any of the other students had any experience designing databases or Web sites, but with Graham's encouragement, they dived in. Two years later, the Experts and Opportunities Network is debuting as a place for undergraduates and graduate students to learn of research opportunities, and as a place for everyone at Johns Hopkins to tap into the wide-ranging expertise across the institutions.
"This is a wonderful example of the enterprise, creativity and technical expertise of our Hopkins Engineering undergraduates," said Andrew Douglas, associate dean for academic affairs for the Whiting School of Engineering and a supporter of the EON venture. "They have accomplished a remarkable feat using their raw intellect, perseverance and some encouragement from the university. Remember that these students are not computer science majors and are [busy because they are] involved in a very wide range of university activities, including student government, CUE, curriculum issues, etc.
"What is truly remarkable is the manner in which these students have been able to integrate information supplied by the Community of Science and the Johns Hopkins Enterprise Directory," Douglas said. "We are hoping that EON will enhance the relationships between faculty and students, making our Hopkins environment even more open to the kind of collaboration between faculty and students which forms the basis of our 'hand-tooled' education."
EON, which the students designed to tap into existing databases as much as possible, serves two functions. One is to provide students at all schools and campuses with a current, keyword-searchable online directory of all the varied research opportunities spread across the Johns Hopkins institutions. Wyrobek and Kavasery said they would like EON to eventually centralize every valuable extracurricular learning opportunity at Hopkins--research, internships, community service, jobs and other creative projects.
Currently, the students are working closely with deans at all campuses to encourage faculty, staff and others to sign on to post opportunities for the spring semester; they're expecting the EON system to be better than the old postings, which, they said, always seemed to be out-of-date.
"The university is such a decentralized place that it often makes it difficult for undergraduates to know of all the research opportunities that exist, and that are close by," said Gary Ostrander, associate dean for research for the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. "The students have really done an excellent job in setting up a mechanism that makes it easy for students and faculty to find appropriate research matches."
EON's second major feature is a comprehensive expertise directory that creates a way for students and faculty to tap into the wealth of expertise at Johns Hopkins. EON simultaneously searches Community of Science databases, EON research profiles and opportunities posted in EON to quickly connect faculty, students and staff to one another.
As much as possible, the students want information to be fed into EON automatically from existing databases, so they've worked extra hard--and made it over a number of administrative hurdles--to tap into JHED and other databases.
Wyrobek and Kavasery said they have worked closely with the Johns Hopkins Enterprise Directory office as well as Community of Science Inc. to ensure that contact information and research expertise are integrated into one easy-to-use system.
As they moved ahead with the project, the students got crash courses in server-side programming, Web page design and database design. They picked up support, getting a Provost's Undergraduate Research Award to fund part of the site's development. The offices of the deans of the Whiting and Krieger schools provided additional funding so the students could work on the project this past summer.
To explore the EON site, go to eon.jhu.edu.