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Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

KU engineering students develop software for Cerner Corp.

Published on November 22nd, 2006 by David Hageman

Nov. 21, 2006

Contact: Jill Hummels, School of Engineering, (785) 864-2934.

LAWRENCE — Students at the University of Kansas are competing head to head against students at other institutions, but this contest is taking place in the classroom and the boardroom, not on a playing field.

Fourteen KU computer science students are taking part in an innovative videoconference-learning environment that tests their creative and technical skills with an actual product development application.

Cerner Corp., a Kansas City, Mo., healthcare software development firm, asked students at KU, Kansas State University, Purdue University and the University of Iowa to develop software for a PDA for use by healthcare providers. The PDA would present, collect and tie together patient information and other data essential to healthcare providers as they care for their clients. Cerner provided each of the nine student teams with a PDA on which to build, test and run their class project.

“The four schools are universities that Cerner recruits from,” said Stephen Smith, senior learning strategist with Cerner. “Each school has nationally recognized departments and programs. In addition to recruiting, the goal is to build relationships between universities and Cerner that will help identify possible partnerships that can improve the healthcare industry.”

Faculty at KU welcome the challenge represented by the multi-institutional course.

“From an engineering perspective, these are strong schools … it is competitive,” said Arvin Agah, professor of electrical engineering and computer science and Software Development Lifecycle course facilitator at KU.

Through video conferencing, Cerner’s engineers and business and medical professionals are assisting with course lectures, giving students lessons based on actual engineering and development processes. Smith said Cerner associates have committed between 500 and 700 hours to developing and delivering the course.

The students also are learning what it takes to begin with a product concept and develop a rapid prototype, Agah said.

“The techniques they are learning are not just Cerner-oriented. They can apply these methodologies to any software development project,” Agah said. “They get to work in a sort of hands-on project on a real product.”

The students also are competing against each other to win the approval of the company. On Dec. 6, all teams will travel to Kansas City to present their prototype to Cerner executives. The members of the top team will each receive one of the PDAs.

The students retain the intellectual property rights to the software they develop. However, if Cerner executives are impressed by something they see during the presentations, they have indicated a willingness to negotiate with students.

For Cerner, the project is more than a way to identify the top fresh talent.

“Cerner enjoys a relationship with each university that reaches beyond the typical university-company recruiting relationship,” Smith said. “While recruiting is a key component of the program, the relationships that are built between the universities and Cerner create opportunities to collaborate and create business relationships that are beneficial to both organizations.”