Keeping the stats

Dec 15, 2003

Computer Science graduate Tim Kucejko developed a software program as a senior thesis project that produces a significant increase in real-time tabulations and more accurate reporting for quizzing competition scores.

"Global recessions seem to occur over a cycle lasting between eight and 10 years. With some luck, this past downturn will fill the quota for the decade, even if it did not qualify as an outright global recession. But recessions are a fact of life in the global economy there is no magic formula for avoiding them. The boom-bust investment cycle in the technology sector was typical of the fits and starts one sees accompanying big new inventions."

-- From a commentary by Kenneth Rogoff, economic counselor and director of the Research Dept. at the International Monetary Fund. Appeared April 5, 2002 in the "Financial Times."

Most industry analysts believe that the global economy has emerged from recession. The plummet of the Dow, over-stated earnings projections of major corporations, corporate indiscretions by company heads that lead to organizational down falls and depleted pension plans, the skyrocketing costs associated with supporting an army overseas in hostile lands all of these issues caused many in the past two years to look cautiously toward the future, as suggested by Rogoff's assessment above.

But as 2003 comes to a close, the economic landscape has taken on a familiar texture.

Still, for those caught in the midst of a company downsizing and currently searching for a job, the economic climb of the U.S. economy in 2003 offers little comfort. Companies, to use a tired cliche, have battened down the hatches and made themselves into sleek, compressed organizations more capable of weathering economic anomalies like the one that gripped our nation from 2001 through 2002. As a result, some jobs are scarcer in certain fields than at any other time in our industrial and technological history.

Nonetheless, for some people a lost opportunity can sometimes turn into an important professional experience. This is true for Kettering graduate Tim Kucejko, who is originally from Troy, Mich., and recently received his degree in Computer Science in December from Kettering University. When the recession hit Michigan, he was working at Synetics Inc. based in Massachusetts, a firm with a government contract to work with the U.S. Army Tank Command in Warren, Mich. While serving as a co-op student at the Tank Command, Kucejko performed software support duties, but as the recession hit full force, he, along with other staffers, lost their jobs. For a Kettering senior preparing to undertake his senior thesis project, the content of this project is dependent upon their work with a specific employer partner.

But Kucejko remained hopeful that given his circumstances he could still undertake a meaningful thesis project. During his career at Kettering, he worked as a volunteer with Detroit Bible Quizzing (DBQ, ), a nonprofit, Detroit-based organization that conducts quizzing leagues for teens, which one might think of as a competition based on scripture memorization. In competitions, DBQ maintains and tabulates statistical information in real-time to establish seedings for tournaments. As a volunteer-based organization, DBQ relied for years on spreadsheets produced using Excel for this purpose. However, recent growth of the organization has created logistical issues in producing these real-time statistics, which causes massive time delays during competitions.

To help establish faster tabulations, Kucejko devised, implemented and evaluated a computing system to replace the previous system. In previous years, the DBQ Excel spreadsheets relied on individual users inputting competition data to tabulate scores, a method that was time consuming and cumbersome to say the least. But Kucejko's system doesn't require specific inputs because it is more intuitive. In an interesting twist, his system operates using two different platforms that were never meant to work in conjunction with one another: Linux and Windows. These platforms were designed to basically function exclusively, and so Kucejko's challenge was to establish a cost effective system that could work onsite at competitions and with web hosting services, which are typically Linux based. This meant that he had to somehow link Linux and Windows together to make his system function correctly. In theory, his system can operate dozens of input modules during a competition, with the number of modules limited by the availability of computers, a far cry from one individual input module DBQ used in years past.

The result of his system? A 70 percent improvement in real-time tabulations and more accurate reporting of scores, thereby allowing future growth. Some very creative negotiations between Kettering's Cooperative Education and Career Services Office and DBQ made this project possible and allowed Kucejko to graduate on time. Specifically, the office helped Kucejko undertake a formal co-op assignment with DBQ, with his salary provided through the on-campus employment program.

Kucejko's work turned out to be what Jim Huggins, associate professor of Computer Science, described, "as important a project as any I've seen in my six years at Kettering. As an employer, DBQ is unusual the organization has few, if any, paid employees, an informal management structure, no offices and really no financial backing to pay a co-op student. At first glance, DBQ doesn't look like a typical co-op employer."

One issue, Huggins noted, was that DBQ was using antiquated tools and technology to conduct business. Although the organization has performed well over the years given its limited technological resources, it has no money, only two paid staff members and no expertise to take on such an important task as a means of updating their business model. More importantly, without being able to perform such updates, they were losing customers.

"I give the Cooperative Education and Career Services Office a lot of credit for seeing the potential in this assignment and seeing that it meets the spirit of the Kettering thesis program," Huggins said. "Tim also deserves credit for pursuing this project and producing a piece of work that will really help DBQ for years to come."

For his part, Kucejko is enthusiastic when expressing his appreciation for the opportunity to engage in a project that taps into the skills and education he received at Kettering. "I'm very excited about this project," he explained. "I thought about it since I was a freshman, but because of my class load and other responsibilities, I didn't have much time to invest in the project. So I was very thrilled to have this idea accepted for my thesis project, and elated when I found out that Kettering would help sponsor the project. This was the single most meaningful experience of my entire education!"

His plans for the future include locating a position in his field and maintaining his volunteerism with DBQ. And he hopes that whatever position he might undertake, he will have the chance to use his degree just as he did with DBQ.

Written by Gary J. Erwin
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