When he’s not in class, University of Maryland student Ravi Kemburu spends his days as a full-time software engineering intern at Facebook.
Now, he’s setting his sights on a new goal: using his IT background to improve access to educational resources at this university.
Kemburu was appointed as the Student Government Association’s newest IT Liaison on Oct.10. The junior computer engineering major, who is the second person to hold the position, has a couple of goals he hopes to meet by the end of the semester: He wants to create a new online portal for university students to sell textbooks, and a website to look up courses’ grade history and student reviews on professors.
“A lot of my focus in the past has been at companies,” Kemburu said. “I thought this position would be a good way to give back to the university.”
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Currently, if a student wants grade data for a specific course, they have to request it through this university’s Office of Institutional Research, Planning and Assessment. But Kemburu thinks it would be valuable for students to be able to access these statistics more easily.
“It’s something me and a lot of my friends and peers were interested in,” Kemburu said. “For a certain class, professors grade differently. It is important for students to know that.”
The site Kemburu proposed would be accessible to university students only, he said, to ensure all the reviews submitted were from Maryland students and not outsiders.
On similar independent sites — such as Rate My Professors — not all professors are listed, profiles are not updated frequently and there often aren’t many reviews, Kemburu said. An independent student previously created OurUMD, a portal just for students at this university, but it hasn’t been updated in years, he added.
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Kemburu also proposed a second project: a textbook portal for students, which would be run through SGA at first and with the intent to turn it over to a designated committee.
“Bookholders is pretty overpriced and bad quality, and the current way students sell textbooks is through Facebook groups.” he said. “We [the SGA] want to cut out the middleman.”
Kemburu emphasized that having a simple alternative allows students to more easily buy and sell their textbooks, which can already be a “big expense.”
When pressed for specifics, Kemburu said he has not yet figured out the logistics surrounding the portal.
SGA President Jonathan Allen\ vetted Kemburu after the deputy chief of staff and chief of staff performed the first round of interviews for the position. Allen expressed his excitement with Kemburu proposing these ideas, which he said “shows motivation on his part.”
“Those are exactly the type of people we want in student government — people that are coming to the table with ideas, excited and energetic,” Allen said.
While Kemburu works toward these goals this semester, he’ll also be overseeing SGA’s technology budget. This involves sending out requests for proposals for the technology budget, overseeing student proposals, sending suggestions to this university’s IT department and determining how much the student technology fee will be.
An accomplishment from the position’s first year in 2017-18 was working with the rest of the Student IT Advisory Committee to purchase the licensing for Turning Point — the software used for clickers — and making it free for students to use on their phones, Allen said.
As for Kemburu’s ideas, Rahila Olanrewaju, the SGA’s academic affairs vice president, felt the portal would need more oversight. For the program to be successful, there would need to be people monitoring the portal to make sure that students aren’t misusing it and writing false reviews, she said.
“It’s important for students to have a good understanding of professors,” Olanrewaju said. “But it is unclear [this is] the best medium to make that possible.”
Erin Farley, a tech consultant at Terrapin Tech — an in-person technology support in McKeldin Library — also had some critiques on the logistics of a students-only portal.
The only real legitimate way of achieving this is to have students log in to it with a university password, Farley said, which would require working with university officials, said Farley, a sophomore criminology and criminal justice major. And this sort of project would be a “full time job” taking at least a few semesters, she said — possibly not even coming to fruition until after Kemburu has graduated.
Although Kemburu acknowledges that these projects may extend after his term, he’s still confident that he’ll be effective in getting the framework done in a timely manner.
“Since I’m working on the [IT Advisory] committee, from that I gain the background knowledge on who to reach out to for getting things done. So far they’ve been pretty responsive,” Kemburu said. “I’m optimistic.”