QUB software students want to partner with local businesses on sustainability issues

  • Computing students from Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) are on the lookout for sustainability and impact-driven projects that they can lend a helping hand to.

    In September 2020, under the school of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EEECS) at Queen’s, the Student Sustainability team was set up by Jonathan Bell, who is now a software engineering intern at Bazaarvoice.

    Jonathan wanted to get involved in tech-for good projects, but couldn’t exactly find what he was searching for.

    “There was the odd project here and there, but not necessarily anything that actively involved tech,” said Philip O’Neill, a fellow member of the society, who is graduating with a Masters in Software Development from QUB later this year.

    “The aim of the society is to make a positive impact on people’s lives or within environmental topics, by trying to use any technological products that we can,” he told Sync NI.

    “We’ve also spoken to some of the Queen’s staff and other schools within the university to see what research they’re doing, and how we could maybe get involved to try and boost their projects or make things much easier for them.”

    You can find the EEECS Student Sustainability Team on YouTube here

    Last year, the society won Allstate NI’s Hackathon with a tool they made that helps Belfast City Council track the progress of their ‘Belfast Circular Economy Vision for 2035’ programme.

    “It’s all about how to improve recycling rates in the Belfast region, and get waste out of landfills more efficiently,” Philip continued.

    “We made a dashboard that helps them track what’s going on. It’s a project idea we undertook that weekend in October. They seem to be keen for us to help them further develop that too.”

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    One team member is currently working on a concept based on accessibility in the tech sector; around how websites or apps should be designed, with people of varying disabilities in mind.

    That could be anything, from someone who is colour-blind, to amputees - for example, somebody who maybe doesn’t have a hand and has to avail of extra technical help to use computers.

    The team made a dashboard for the 'Belfast Circular Economy' project, that won them Allstate's Hackathon last year

    An initiative Philip and another team member have partaken in is a gender equality project, to encourage and highlight women in NI’s technology sector.

    They have interviewed leaders from Women in Tech Belfast and recently spoke with Dame Stephanie Shirley, a successful British IT entrepreneur turned ardent philanthropist.

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    “She’s a really interesting woman, because she started her own software company and only hired women,” said Philip.

    “She started that even before equal rights legislation was brought in to help women, back when females really weren’t working in the software industry, in the 60s and 70s.

    “She hired young mothers, let them work from home and all these sorts of things. She started selling off a lot of her assets. She’s hugely successful and is probably close to being a billionaire these days, but she takes on wee projects and invests in small things here and there.”

    The EEECS Student Sustainability Society was started with the help of QUB's Environmental 'Green' team

    Philip and the EEECS Student Sustainability Society are keen for local social enterprises and environmental charities to get in touch with any information or projects they need help with, particularly on a technological basis. 

    Similarly, if any businesses within NI want to get in touch with some tech-for-good initiatives, the team is keen to branch out and make their services known across the region. 

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    “We’re only in the first eight to nine months of being created, so we’re not even a full society yet,” Philip added.

    “Anybody’s more than welcome to sign up. It started in software and it favours software students as we aim to help tech-for-good projects, but the society isn’t specifically aimed at software people.”

    Check out the EEECS Student Sustainability Society's Facebook and YouTube pages for more info and to get in contact with the team members

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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