SITO, the Student IT Office, is based out of a small office tucked away in a back corner of the Carey Building. There, a group of RIT students are working on a project far more important than their cramped office would let on. These are the people who are building and improving Tiger Center, RIT’s new student portal. There’s a good chance you have already used Tiger Center, especially if you started at RIT after the 2014/15 school year. You might have used it to enroll in classes, check for final grades, or used the new Dining Services account balance function.
These are functions previously exclusive to SIS and eServices. While Tiger Center is pushing to be a new, improved student portal, it is by no means replacing SIS or eServices. “We want to make Tiger Center more for everyday use,” said Alana Bichutsky, a SITO team member. SIS and eServices will remain in place for major things like official transcripts and finances, whereas Tiger Center will be a quick one stop shop for information you need on the go, like dining hours, class schedule, and more.
Who is the team responsible for all of this, anyway? This mystery group of people have been working to improve a system RIT students will use for years to come. Why haven’t you heard of them before? It’s not surprising you haven’t, since SITO is a behind the scenes operation.
SITO is a rotating group of co-op students from various backgrounds ranging from Software Engineering to Business Management. While the team has a few faculty and staff advisors, these employees take a hands off approach to the team. “It’s a lot different than a lot of the co-ops for these majors,” said Kim Sowers, one of the SITO staff advisors, “because the students are self managed.”
This means the students set most of their agenda for their semester co-op. The current team consists of Alana Bichutsky, Scott Baron, David Egan, Kyle Scagnelli, and Jillian Duma. Bichutsky the team’s Business Analyst, decides the direction of the marketing. Duma, its Designer, decides what the UI is going to look like. Baron, Scagnelli, and Egan, the project’s current Web Developers, get free reign with the code. This is not to say they are entirely on their own (or not held accountable, for that matter), since the co-op team always has the staff advisors to draw on. These staff members love working with the student team, so there is a mutual respect. This whole project is a collaboration with the students on the front line and the staff in the background.
Since we mentioned it was a co-op position, allow me to answer the question I’m sure many of you are about to ask. Yes, they are hiring. SITO currently has a full staff for Fall 2017, but they are looking for co-ops for Spring and Summer 2018. So get those resumes ready, kids, because fall semester is coming up sooner than you think. A side note, speaking as someone who has worked a co-op on campus, it’s a best of both worlds situation. You can stay in your RIT Housing, stay close to all your friends, and you can actually afford to do all the stuff you want to as a college student.
The student team seems to agree that SITO is a worthwhile endeavor and a great job. It has a close knit group and a great deal of autonomy. These factors drew the current team to working for SITO. “At my last co-op, I worked at a huge Fortune 500 company,” said Bichutsky, “I knew I wanted work in a small company feel, so SITO was the perfect place, because I knew I’d end up working with four or five people closely and with great mentors here at RIT.” The fact that these students are working independently on a major RIT project is also a major draw. “I really enjoy actually having ownership of the product I’m working on,” said Egan, “I have previous co-op experience as well and I never really got to see what came out of my work.” He added, “I can actually see my work and use it.”
Even though it is called the Student IT Office, it is not like ResNet or ITS. So, don’t show up at the office with a busted laptop. The team was born shortly after the launch of SIS in 2012 out of a desire to improve the student experience at RIT. The new SIS system, the one we know today, was designed to replace a legacy mainframe system. At a campus packed with thousands of tech majors, many students were unhappy with it. SITO was created to provide students not only with an opportunity to provide insight into how they wanted to interact with SIS, but to also provide students the opportunity to develop software to be used by other students based on student suggestions.
Each team since then has taken their turn improving the system as a whole. Working a semester at a time, these student teams add to the platform in their own ways. Some teams will add obvious front end features, such as the Dining Services hours or improved user interfaces. Others will build the infrastructure of the site that may be a little less obvious to the user, but improve the user experience nonetheless. This team of students has been, by all accounts, a success at this. So much so, that there is a desire in the administration to create more such student teams to tackle big problems.
The SITO team agrees wholeheartedly that more student teams are a good thing for RIT. “I feel like we’re on the forefront,” said Baron, adding that he believes that, “one successful SITO semester after another will lead to more student teams.” The general consensus in the room was that this idea of a student team building a student-facing product gives the University the ability to not only solve problems, but to better educate students.
Working in such a diverse team allows SITO to not only create an exceptional product, but to grow as professionals. RIT could have easily found a veteran group of full time web developers to build the platform. However, that’s not the point of the office. The team is there to give RIT students a chance for a seat at the table, and more importantly, learn. Working as an interdisciplinary team while still in school allows these students to experience a slice of the working world. “I think it’s a great experience to be working with other disciplines,” said Duma, “because when you go to a company, you’re not gonna be working with people who are just [your discipline].” This was a sentiment echoed by Scagnelli, who said “It’s great to be with so many disciplines in one small little area, you get to learn more things like business and design instead of just strictly [web] development.”
Of course, when you put a team of students in a room with a project and say go, their tendency is to tinker. They want to see what’s under the hood of the project and will come up with creative ways to test the program’s resilience to make sure the program can handle whatever is thrown at it. One of the ways that this manifests itself is through one or two easter eggs. One was a reference to the Star Wars series, accessible by entering the Konami Code on your keyboard after logging in.
The SITO team may not receive a ton of glory, but they are doing important work for the RIT community and paving the way for future student teams. The model seems to be working out quite well. Giving them the ability to work on a student team like SITO or even Behind the Bricks allows them the opportunity to do so. What better classroom than a real team, with a real project and real users?