College of Computing Students Develop Software that Helps Shoppers Feed the Hungry

April 20, 2004

Seniors in Georgia Tech's College of Computing are using their education to help end hunger, an epidemic reportedly affecting over 33 million Americans. CoC’s Karl Zipperer, Max Blinder, Daag Alemayehu and Rick Arnett collaborated on a project with Cut Out Hunger, an Atlanta-area non-profit, to radically improve the organization’s website; thereby, enabling cost-conscious grocery shoppers to save money and donate food to charity.

For their senior-level computer design course, computer science majors at Georgia Tech are required to complete a significant team project. The project’s teams usually consist of four students who spend between 750 – 1,000 hours working on the project over the 15-week semester. Students have a choice of either a project of personal interest or one for an off-campus client. Many students include this capstone project in their portfolio and seek challenging projects. “The most appealing aspect of this project was the fact it's for a good cause—feeding the hungry,” says Zipperer, recent computer science graduate from the Georgia Tech’s College of Computing. “To me, it was a lot more motivating to know the system I was designing might help put food on some family's table than to be writing a new system for an insurance firm would have been.”

Cut Out Hunger is a volunteer effort that provides a website listing the best deals at specific grocery stores in 10 markets including Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, Michigan, Ohio, Texas, Utah, and Long Island, New York, matching sales with grocery coupons available in the Sunday newspaper to maximize savings. The free site's objective is to help people save money and increase food donations to local hunger organizations. Stephanie Nelson, the founder and driving force behind Cut Out Hunger, approached Georgia Tech because she knew her Cut Out Hunger website’s old technology was inefficient. Nelson founded Cut Out Hunger several years ago when she realized there are thousands of store and manufacturer coupons that never get used and these unused coupons and in-store specials could be used to fill community food banks and soup kitchens. Her idea was simple - since in-store specials make some products practically free, buy it even if it’s not your product of choice and donate it to a food bank.

“We push our students to find a project that's interesting technically but also has real world impact,” says Dr. John Stasko, associate professor in the College of Computing and faculty adviser for the team. Stasko says the team concentrated on the architecture and database access for the Cut Out Hunger website, which greatly reduced the amount of administrative and upkeep time Nelson had to spend each week entering the week's coupons and in-store specials. The re-design greatly reduced the labor-intensive process of entering long UPC codes into a spreadsheet. In addition, Stasko says the team did a good job working with the client to understand her needs and design a solution for her. Nelson, an admitted technology novice, was unaware of the possibilities of automating and simplifying her weekly website updates.

Nelson says the new website and database system designed and built by the students have reduced her data-entry time each week from 15 hours per week for just the Atlanta market to 5 hours per week for 10 markets. The estimated savings for those using the Cut Out Hunger site is $200 a month per family (10,000 current users) for a total $24 million each year, according to Nelson. “I am deeply grateful to Georgia Tech and these students for their creativity, their many hours of work, and their determination to improve the functionality of this website. Their contribution is worth thousands of dollars, and it will help retain more long-term web site users. As a result, more people will save money and donate food to feed the hungry,” says Nelson.

The Georgia Institute of Technology is one of the nation's premiere research universities. Ranked among U.S. News & World Report 's top 10 public universities, Georgia Tech educates nearly 17,000 students every year through its Colleges of Engineering, Management, Computing, Sciences, Architecture and Liberal Arts. Tech maintains a diverse campus and is the nation's top producer of women and African-American engineers. The Institute offers research opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students and is home to more than 80 interdisciplinary units plus the Georgia Tech Research Institute. During the 2002-2003 academic year, Tech totaled more than $660 million in research awards and expenditures.

More information about Cut Out Hunger is online at www.cutouthunger.org.