A Purdue University junior with Gary roots partly credits his experience working at a Mexican fast-food joint for influencing a piece of technology in the making.
John Franklin Jr., 20, is developing an Android smartphone application, or "app," designed to help students improve literacy outside of the school day. Franklin said he wanted to develop a cellphone app because more people own phones than computers.
"I used to work at Taco Bell, and some of the people that worked there, they at least owned a cellphone, but many did not own a computer," he said.
Those who did have computers didn't always have Internet access, but their phones did, he said. That observation stayed with Franklin, who is majoring in computer science and minoring in electrical and computer engineering on the West Lafayette campus. He was tasked with a research project to create an educational application.
"I thought maybe I could create an application that would help students read," he said.
Franklin said he wanted to develop something to help schools in Gary. Although he lived in Gary, Franklin's parents did not want him attending school there, so he went to schools in Griffith and Muncie, he said.
An introductory computer science class at Purdue armed him with the basics, and he started figuring out how to create apps. His goal is to design one that allows teachers to upload classroom lessons that students or their parents can access. He hopes the literacy program will be ready for release in the fall. Then, he will expand to other subjects.
Franklin said he talked to a few school teachers about his app, and they were supportive. Although the application wouldn't be specific to Gary schools, he hopes the schools will take advantage of it.
Tim Korb, assistant department head for computer science at Purdue, said he was an official mentor to Franklin in his participation in the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program, which provided initial support for Franklin's Early Literacy Application Android project.
"This project has been a tremendous learning experience for John," Korb said. "He has not only improved his software development skills, (but) he has also learned how to think beyond computer science and work with others to ensure that his systems will meet their needs."