Students host first Open Source Club meeting

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Open Source Club held its first meeting for students interested in computer programming on April 9. Dissatisfied with Occidental’s limited computer science department, a group of student computer programmers established the club to strengthen the computer science community on campus.

Club co-presidents biochemistry major Myles Groner (junior) and mathematics major Daniel Park (sophomore) introduced the club by reciting its mission statement to the 18 students in attendance.

“Open Source seeks to further the structured environment produced by Occidental College and to supplement the students’ knowledge via project-based learning and peer-to-peer education,” Groner said. “In addition to software production, hardware construction and algorithm analysis, Open Source aims to further basic knowledge of the interdisciplinary fields of technology.”

According to cognitive science major and e-board member Emma Kohanyi (sophomore), the ultimate goal of the club is to build support for a larger computer science department at Occidental. Groner mentioned that Open Source has advocated for a computer science major to Dean of the College Jorge Gonzalez, who is now implementing small steps toward expanding the department and is in the process of hiring a tenure-track computer science professor.

Students conceived the idea for Open Source Club during adjunct assistant professor of mathematics Jeffrey Miller’s“Programming in Java” class in fall 2013. According to Groner, he and his classmates felt they hit a dead end after completing the class because Occidental only offers computer science as a minor. They thought the computer science community on campus needed more administrative and moral support.

“One sunny afternoon I was feeling kind of lonely because it’s just me and my computer all the time, and I thought it would be nice if we had some sort of computer programming club,” Park said.

In March, Groner and Park recruited Miller as the club adviser and secured funding from the Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) and the Center for Digital Learning and Research (CDLR). The CDLR also provides Open Source with equipment and work space.

Each member of the executive board will lead club members in different projects throughout the semester. Groner said that the projects will focus on gaming, robotics and security. He plans on working with the club to create technology ranging from phone apps to micro-computers. Park may even lead a project about hacking.

The first meeting served to ignite enthusiasm for the club’s prospects and gauge experience levels of its members. While waiting for the stragglers to arrive, the new club members gawked atthe tech gadgets displayed on the tables: a 3-D-printed Star Wars storm trooper head, a Raspberry Pi micro-computer and an infinity mirror.

The co-presidents began the meeting by showing a YouTube video about the promising future of computer coding, featuring coders such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and musical artist will.i.am.

Club members then participated in activities that indicated their level of computer science knowledge and applied the principles of coding to the real world. In one game, two teams wrote English language code to direct the blindfolded co-presidents around the room to find a dry-eraser and bring it to a table at the opposite side. If the human-computers got hurt or fell, the computer program “crashed” and the team had to start over. Both computers completed the mission unharmed and the first meeting concluded.

With a strong initial turnout, the e-board is hopeful that the club will attract more attention to the computer science department.

Groner said that Open Source encourages all students to join or collaborate with the club, regardless of how little experience they have with computer science. According to Kohanyi, it took most of the e-board members only a year or two to become fluent in multiple programming languages.

“The learning curve is not as steep as people think it is,” mathematics major and e-board member Brandon Martelli (senior) said.

The e-board agreed that Open Source can be considered a “nerd” club, but that programming is not only for computer nerds.

“Everyone at Oxy is a nerd, just different types,” Martelli said. ”Whatever you’re a nerd in, there’s a computer science application for that.”

According to Martelli, computer science applies to many fields, so Open Source can collaborate with every department, organization and individualto help them be more successful any academic pursuits that may require programming. The e-board named the club on the basis that they can act as an “open source” for anyone who needs their expertise.

“The name Open Source means that data is free to everyone,” Groner said.