University of Colorado student uses Foundation support to solve computer science problems at local non-profit

Saturday, January 31st, 2015

By Ashley Jeanne Dernaley (WennersHerron)*

 

Zach Doyle

Zach Doyle

Zach Doyle can’t remember a time when he wasn’t interested in computer science.

“I spent most of my childhood summers attending and, later, working at, computer camp in my hometown of Bethesda, Maryland,” Zach said. “I’ve always liked the unambiguous nature of formal languages and the underlying logic they express.”

Thanks to The Casey Feldman Memorial Foundation, Zach, currently a junior at the University of Colorado Boulder, had the opportunity to expand and apply his programming skills in a big way. He was awarded a computer science scholarship to use his technological skills as an intern at the Boulder Food Rescue (BFR) non-profit organization.

Boulder Food Rescue aims to revitalize the food pantry system to get food that would otherwise be wasted to people who might otherwise go hungry. Local businesses load Boulder Food Rescue bins with soon-to-expire fresh produce. Volunteers hook the bins to their bicycles and deliver the payload to soup kitchens and other organizations able to distribute the food. The system works—if everything is tracked properly to make sure food isn’t wasted due to missed pick-ups or double deliveries. That’s where Zach came in.

 Boulder Food Rescue diverts thousands of pounds of fresh produce every day which otherwise would be disposed of


Boulder Food Rescue diverts thousands of pounds of fresh produce every day which otherwise would be disposed of

Zach had previously worked with a homeless shelter that was chronically under-supplied, and he was familiar with the problems of waste in food distribution systems. He was eager to help Boulder Food Rescue address those problems using his unique skill set.

“I worked with the Food Rescue Robot, which, misleadingly, is not a robot but a dynamic webpage,” Zach said. The webpage was designed with the help of Sean Wiese, the first University of Colorado student to receive a computer science stipend from the Casey Feldman Memorial Foundation. Sean graduated in 2013.

Under the mentorship of Caleb Phillips, the Food Rescue Robot’s original designer and an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado, Zach quickly learned how to improve the software needed for the food transfer process.

“Zach came into the project with very little experience directly applicable to the task. Nevertheless, he picked up concepts quickly,” Caleb said, also mentioning Zach’s kindness and thoughtfulness as a worker. “I enjoyed working with him.”

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Pick- ups and deliveries are made by bicycle to minimize the impact on the environment

Zach spent much of his internship updating the Food Rescue Robot to allow for a more efficient and useful delivery system. When he started, the Food Rescue Robot could track a donor location, a recipient location and the food items that could be transferred. Zach taught the system to track schedule chains, consisting of multiple stops to ensure that the foods available arrive promptly at the places that need them the most.

“Through this internship, I gleaned more skills while working on a real project with a real organization,” Zach said. “I found it immensely satisfying to work on a real project with real consequences, as opposed to writing the same code every Computer Science major before has written.”

Caleb said the code Zach wrote for the Food Rescue Robot is now an integral part of the tool, and it’s used by 22 cities internationally to track food recovery. The system has rescued 1.13 million pounds of food to date, with the help of 949 volunteers.

“I can confidently say that more food will get to more people who need it because of the computer code I wrote,” Zach said. “There is, as far as I’m concerned, no feeling that compares to applying one’s self—in a skilled capacity—for the greater good.”

Please consider donating to the Casey Feldman Foundation to aid not only students, but also local communities.

Related Links:

“Foundation Establishes Computer Science Student/Non-Profit Partnership; Recipient Helps the Hungry”, Casey Feldman Foundation, Nov. 2012

“Class project helps divert 170,000 pounds of food from the dumpster”,  University of Colorado – Boulder, Oct. 2012

“Sean Wiese Receives First Casey Feldman Award for his work with Boulder Food Rescue“,  Department of Computer Science, University of Colorado – Boulder

 

Ashley (L) & Casey, 2008

Ashley (L) & Casey, 2008

 

* Ashley and Casey were friends and editors on The Observer, the student newspaper at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus. Ashley currently works as a science writer in Roanoke, VA.

 

Foundation Establishes Computer Science Student/Non-Profit Partnership; Recipient Helps the Hungry

Monday, November 19th, 2012

By Dianne L. Anderson

Sean Wiese at the computer demonstrating BFR's new web application

Local non-profits often do not have the funds necessary to meet the technology needs necessary to advance their missions. Recognizing that need, the Casey Feldman Foundation established a program that pays stipends to computer science students to work for non-profits. The computer science student receives valuable experience and the non-profit gets a better website, necessary software applications, social media assistance, e-newsletters or blogs for their organization.

Programs have been established at a number of universities, including Villanova, the University of Colorado and Southern Connecticut State University. Non-profits that have benefitted include Gilda’ Club (support for families of cancer patients), Francisvale Home for Smaller Animals and Boulder Food Rescue (BFR).

Thousands of pounds of good food go into dumpsters each day

Sean Wiese was the first student at the University of Colorado to receive a stipend to assist a non-profit,  Boulder Food Rescue (BFR).   BFR rescues and redistributes perishable food “waste” to charities that serve homeless and at-risk individuals with the goal of helping to solve the problems of hunger, malnutrition, and food waste in the community.  Focusing on nutritious fruits and vegetables that would that would not otherwise be available to their recipients, volunteers pick up food from small and large markets, cafes, restaurants, bakeries and the University.  While doing so, they work to have minimal environmental impact by transporting the food with bicycles directly from donors to recipients. Some 170,000 pounds of produce and baked goods have been diverted from dumpsters in the last year since the organization was established.

A BFR volunteer making a pickup at Whole Foods in Boulder

This non-profit was having difficulty with scheduling between donors, recipients and its more than 70 volunteers that pick up and deliver the food. Sean Wiese, a concurrent BS/MS Computer Science major, designed a software application to meet the needs of BFR. The web application allows organizations that donate or receive food from Boulder Food Rescue to input pickup and delivery information. An intelligent planning algorithm then takes in pickups, deliveries and volunteer schedules to plan optimal pickup schedules for its volunteer force. The goal was to enable BFR to optimize its limited resources and enable it to handle more pickups. Already, the organization has increased its pickups and deliveries by hundreds of pounds per week.

 

Sean, who will be working as a software development engineer for Microsoft upon graduation in May, has already had two corporate internships during college. Asked about his experience with BFR, Sean stated that it was immensely gratifying to give back to the community and use his skills to aid such a worthy charity. In addition, “The hands on experience outside the classroom has helped to prepare me for my upcoming job at Microsoft.”

BFR minimizes its environmental footprint by making deliveries and pickups by bicycle

BFR minimizes its environmental footprint by making deliveries and pickups by bicycle

Related Links:

Boulder Food Rescue

“Class project helps divert 170,000 pounds of food from the dumpster”,  University of Colorado – Boulder

“Sean Wiese Receives First Casey Feldman Award for his work with Boulder Food Rescue“, University of Colorado – Boulder

Gilda’s Club

Francisvale Home for Smaller Animals