Month: April 2019

MIS Department Hands Out $23,000 in Scholarships

On Tuesday, April 23rd, the Operations and Information Management (OPIM) Department held its 2019 Management Information Systems (MIS) Scholarship Banquet. There, 45 MIS students were awarded on merit and academic excellence, with a new award, the “MIS MVP Award,” being handed out for the first time.

After opening remarks by OPIM Department Head Suresh Nair, MIS Academic Director Jonathan Moore updated everyone on the progress of the MIS program. Most notably:

  • the analytics minor is now the most popular minor in the school of business, with 172 students currently enrolled.
  • Data Visualization and Gamification in Business are now permanent courses in the MIS curriculum.
  • 144 students are currently enrolled in the MIS major, a 41% increase in enrollment since Jonathan Moore began his work as MIS Academic Director in 2017.
  • the Management and Engineering for Manufacturing program has formed an alliance with OPIM Innovate and, through its lab renovations, will expand the initiative’s reach.

Recipients of the MIS scholarships had a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.60 and an average cumulative GPA of 3.72. This bested numbers from the previous year, where the minimum cumulative GPA was 3.57 and the average cumulative GPA was 3.69. After each student came up to receive their award, Moore then announced the winner of the MIS MVP Award: Victoria Trautman, (’20) president of the Information Management Association. Due to her activism for the MIS program in connecting alumni to students and creating a community for everyone in the major, he thought her a perfect recipient. She was invited up to the podium where she spoke of how she was discouraged to pursue STEM in youth, but how coming to UConn and seeing women in those fields changed her self-perception and drew her to MIS. After her acceptance speech, the event ended with closing remarks by Bob Day, Associate Dean of the School of Business.

We would like to congratulate everyone who received an award at the 2019 MIS Scholarship Banquet! To graduating seniors: good luck with your future professional endeavors! We wish you well!


Levo International Showcases Hydroponic Installation to Preschoolers

On Wednesday, April 28th, Levo International, in collaboration with OPIM Innovate, showcased one of its many hydroponic installations to preschoolers at the UConn Child Development Laboratory. Born from an Eagle Scout project completed by founder Christian Heiden, (Applied Economics major) Levo International creates hydroponic greenhouses and sells them in the United States to support the organization’s growth in Haiti. There, Levo hopes to assist the Haitian economy by creating manufacturing jobs for the natives and popularizing a more reliable mode of small-plant farming–hydroponics–where soil is not needed.

During the hydroponics showcase, Heiden explained hydroponics to the preschoolers, students-teachers, and Laboratory staff at the event. While the content had to be simplified for the younger members of the audience, the concepts were still well received with much enthusiasm from the children. In addition, as a gift to the Child Development Laboratory, Heiden donated the very greenhouse he showcased with hopes that the program would use it to grow vegetables and fruits for the children. The system can grow fruits like tomatoes, raspberries, and strawberries, perfect for snack time!

So, how does it work? Well, the hydroponic greenhouse is fueled by a nutrient reservoir filled mostly with nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. From there, the water is pumped up to the top of the greenhouse, where it then flows through all the pipes to the seated plants. After the water reaches each plant, it returns to the reservoir and is recycled on a solar-powered timer. All a user has to do is check the roots of the plants to prevent the system from clogging and replace the fertilizer every two-to-three weeks. “That was our goal: eliminate most of the hassle,” said Heiden in his explanation of the system. “Especially in the United States, people are always on a time crunch.”

Want to support Levo International? Please click here to be redirected to their shop where they sell their greenhouses, nutrient starter packs, and wearable merchandise.




A Reflection: OPIM Innovate Drones in Action Workshop

On Friday, April 19th, OPIM Innovate invited Jason Otrin, entrepreneur and founder of On Course Drones, to host its Drones in Action Workshop. The purpose of the workshop was to teach students about the multipurpose benefits of drone technology and the Remote Pilot Certification process. In addition to this, Otrin spoke about why he decided to start his On Course Drones initiative and the entrepreneurial challenges he faced to get there. Overall, the workshop was an insightful look into how a recreational pastime and personal interest can become a successful commercial endeavor.

After enlisting in the Connecticut Army National Guard in 1990 and serving in aviation maintenance, Otrin enrolled in the UConn Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program. In 1995, he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and was commissioned as an intelligence officer in the US Army. He was always very interested in aviation and, based on his service with helicopters in the National Guard and exposure to military aviation, earned his private pilot license while serving on active duty. After departing from the army in 2000, he worked for 17 years in information technology (IT) services until he realized, from helping his wife with her own start-up ventures, that he wanted to open his own business. That was when he found UConn’s Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans, which helped him apply his acquired entrepreneurial acumen to his first business plan.

“My intention was to start an IT training company,” said Otrin while reminiscing about his business prototyping days. “But, deep down, it wasn’t really what I wanted. One of my mentors helped me realize that. After working on a 45-page business plan for 4 months, she said to me, ‘You know what, I can tell that this isn’t what lights you up.'” She asked Otrin to think about his childhood interests, his hobbies, what he reads, and his pastimes to steer him in the right direction in terms of creating a business he would enjoy running. It didn’t take long for him to pinpoint that he wanted to do something with aviation. “I went to airshows, read aviation magazines, was obsessed with flying–so I came back a week later and told her that I needed to do something aviation related.” Based on how quickly he wrote his second business plan, he realized that following his passions would lead to his success.

Fast forward to today and Otrin now runs a drone training firm that helps clients prepare for the FAA 107 exam, a certification that allows you to fly a remote aircraft (a.k.a a drone) for commercial purposes below 400 feet, along with other requirements. In addition, he takes on private projects related to drones, such as birds-eye-view real estate displays showcasing neighborhood environments, and will be teaching a course at UConn in the fall, OPIM 4895-001, which will give UConn students the opportunity to prepare for the FAA 107 exam for credit. “As part of the course, I want to help students develop an idea of where they want to go with drones. This will be their project,” he explained, “applying drones to their career fields.”

Outside of recreational use, drones have many practical applications that can be beneficial to various industries. They allow human beings to get to places they may not otherwise be able to go, see things from an overhead perspective, and make informed decisions. For instance:

  • Insurance companies use drones before and after natural disasters to assess damage compensation and inform customers about the status of their homes.
  • Search and rescue teams use drones to assist injured persons by pinpointing their location and through the transportation of resources.
  • Military officers use drones to gain intel on the enemy and assist commanders to assess and decide on next steps.

Alongside these real-world examples, drone technology is becoming far more advanced, meaning that drones are becoming more automated, obstacle-aware and flight time is improving. DJI Mavic 2 Pro can be flown and monitored by its remote, or transmitter, up to 4.9 miles away and stay in the air for 31 minutes. Note that these specifications are under ideal conditions and FAA regulations require drones to stay within visual line of sight of the operator unless they possess a waiver. DJI also manufactures headsets that give drone users a first-person perspective of what the drone is capturing. These headsets typically monitor head movements to adjust camera direction using the drone’s gimbal, a stand that levels the drone’s built-in camera as it flies.

After the workshop, students left with a better understanding of drones and how they can utilize drone technology in their own pursuits. “I’ve had this idea for a while now to use drones as a way to help commuters find available parking spaces,” said computer science major Andi Duro (’21) when asked about his experience at the workshop. “This workshop gave me a better understanding of the regulations and rules of commercial air flight to help me better solidify that idea.” Natalie Chmielewska (’21), a computer science and engineering double major, also gained useful insight to help her with the UConn SPARK program. “Jason put in a lot of effort to show us every aspect of drone flying and how it can be used for our own pursuits and for those younger than us,” she said. UConn SPARK gives middle school and high school students access to week-long workshops centered around engineering and STEM to encourage their involvement in those areas.

OPIM Innovate would like to thank Jason Otrin for his service, both in the military and for the OPIM Department. We look forward to seeing what you do in the fall! A huge thank you to everyone who attended, as well!





Innovate is Hiring! Student Lab Specialist Positions Available

OPIM Innovate is currently seeking to fill three new student lab specialist positions for the fall of 2019. While two of these lab specialist positions will commence in the fall, one student worker will be needed over the summer.

As a student lab specialist, student workers must test and give presentations on the emerging technologies OPIM Innovate has to offer. In addition, lab specialists must assist students with various lab projects.  As such, great communication and customer service skills are a must. Experience with virtual/augmented reality, 3D printing/modeling, IoT/data analytics, drones/wearable tech, A.I./Blockchain is also preferred, but not required.

The student lab specialist position is a Class III job and offers great internship experience for students interested in learning about up-and-coming technologies. For more information on the student lab specialist position, please click here to be directed to the job listing on UConn JobX. For any additional questions contact MIS Program Director Jonathan Moore at

Pearson is Hiring! UConn Campus Ambassador

Pearson is currently searching for a diligent and enthusiastic individual to become its UConn campus ambassador. As a Pearson campus ambassador, students partner with their local Pearson sales team to promote Pearson’s MyLab and other educational products through presentations, technology registration events, and blog and social media posts.

Pearson campus ambassadors get to test new products; gain access to travel, internship, leadership, and future employment opportunities; and are provided with Pearson course material for free! This 5-10 hour a week position is a great resume builder and helps ambassadors with their public speaking and overall communication skills.

In order to apply to this position, please click here to be redirected to the official job posting.


A Reflection: CoMIS Case Competition 2019

On Wednesday, April 10th, the University of Connecticut’s Operations and Information Management (OPIM) Department sent a team of talented students to participate in the University of Minnesota’s (UMN’s) CoMIS case competition. In order to qualify for the trip, each student had to take the Business Case Competitions independent study (OPIM 4899-004) and show substantial improvement in each of their weekly presentations for the class. Although difficult for Jonathan Moore, the Business Case Competitions instructor and Management Information Systems (MIS) director, he decided to invite students Mariela Kridzelis (MIS & English ’19), Joseph Gauthier (MIS ’20), and Victoria Trautman (MIS ’20) to compete. Joining the three students were himself and MIS senior Hannah Bonitz as assistant coach, who had competed in the CoMIS case competition the year before.

The morning of April 10th, all students met Professor Moore to fly out to Minneapolis. During the kickoff dinner they were introduced to their rooms, other teams, and their competitors for the preliminary round. After a good night’s sleep, they were ready to visit the sponsor sites and prepare for the competition.

On day two, students and faculty were invited to partake in one of two tours: a tour of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minnesota or a tour of the U.S. Bank Stadium. Both were interesting snapshots of what Minneapolis had to offer and allowed competing schools to mingle with each other while experiencing something new. “The U.S. Bank Stadium definitely lived up to the hype,” said Gauthier. “Every aspect of the modern fan experience was covered and integrated with top class engineering and [information technology] solutions.” For the Federal Reserve Bank tour, both Moore and Kridzelis enjoyed learning about the Federal Reserve System and how artificial intelligence (A.I.) is helping workers count, transport, and sort money.

On CoMIS day three, all teams were confined to their respective hotel rooms to assemble their business solution in twenty-four hours. The prompt asked participating teams to try to help U.S. Bank increase IT security through the use of biometric technology. For UConn’s team, self-named “CoMMIT,” their ideas were the following: iris technology to get access to bank information, fingerprint activated payment cards, and A.I. chatbots that improve with machine learning to detect call-center fraud.

After the case was completed, which took approximately twenty hours of consecutive and/or simultaneous work from all team members, Trautman, Gauthier, and Kridzelis took advantage of the time they had left to rest and practice before their presentation. As they were selected to present at 9:00 AM, that meant that they had to deliver their case by 8:20 AM. The anxiety and tensions were high, signaled by a few pauses and self-doubt when mistakes were made during practice runs. When 8:00 AM hit, they realized they had to get ready to leave. “We just had to trust ourselves and each other,” said Kridzelis. “We knew our nerves were getting to us, but we reminded ourselves of each others’ potential and that, in the moment, we would be okay.”

When CoMMIT finally presented in front of their panel of judges, the professionalism that emanated from each team member masked any unease they were experiencing during the fifteen minutes they were given. Due to the creativity of CoMMIT’s solutions, they were able to get second place out of all teams in their randomized bracket for the preliminary round (which included three winning schools from the year before). This meant that they had a chance to go to finals through a question-and-answer lightning round. Unfortunately, they did not advance beyond this point, but ended up achieving seventh place overall “Our team stayed for a short time, but managed a good showing against steep competition,” said Moore. “Although there were times where I felt I would nearly fall down, I always had a teammate ready to pick me back up,” followed Trautman.

Although CoMMIT did not make it to finals, they grew in those few days in Minnesota, became closer with each other, and gained feedback that would help them in the future. “In any competition, there are bound to be winners,” said Bonitz in retrospection,” but being a winner doesn’t always mean getting the gold. We celebrated the experience and what we learned from it–that was our real reward.”

We would like to thank the University of Minnesota for inviting us back to the CoMIS case competition, and for Noel Vierra for being such a wonderful team host. We hope to continue bringing our best talent to the playing field in the years to come.

Student Spotlight: Andrew Taylor

Raised in Wallingford, Connecticut, sophomore management information systems (MIS) major Andrew Taylor learned of his love for technology when he was introduced to the Sega Genesis by his father. In experiencing classic video games titles like the original Sonic the Hedgehog game, he developed an appreciation for the underlying complexities behind a fully functioning piece of software. This followed him to his high school years, where he partook in coding classes to improve upon his growing computer literacy. He learned coding languages such as Java and Visual Basic to satisfy his technical curiosity, but found that the fundamentals only spurred his desire to learn more.

Andrew sits across from me in the OPIM Innovate Lab, patiently waiting for me to begin the interview. He has lent me his laptop computer to take notes, a kind gesture on his part after I informed him that the battery on my own machine had died. If there is one thing I can say about Andrew’s character from the brief time that I have known him, it is that he is a selfless and thoughtful individual. Acts of kindness are never few and far in between with him, and they are easily reciprocated by his friends. Only a few minutes after commencing Andrew’s interview, for example, a mutual friend of ours tells me to make sure I write him “the article he deserves.” Andrew laughs it off as a joke, reaffirming my belief that he is a genuinely humble person. To him, praise is not the reward–making an impact is.

When deciding his college major, Andrew already knew that he wanted to declare MIS. “I knew that MIS would give me a lot of analytical thinking skills related to general business strategy. I also knew that it would give me a technical perspective on business problems.” In discussing this further, Andrew professes to me that he did not want to become an individual too engrossed in functional expertise to be flexible. “In MIS, you learn to communicate beyond your technical foundation. Especially for those who don’t have strong soft skills, that’s important. While I identify as someone who is more attracted to the technical side of MIS, the major has challenged me to become better at public speaking and presenting to a general audience, something that’s really broadened my perspective.”

Outside of the MIS major, Andrew is the Alumni Relations Manager for the Information Management Association (IMA). As the Alumni Relations Manager, he is responsible for keeping in close contact with alumni, encouraging alumni to get involved with the MIS curriculum, and organizing alumni-student events. “Right now, I am planning an alumni panel on April 16th where five UConn alums will come in and talk about their experiences as students. It will mainly focus on how they got internships and how they made the MIS major work for them, but it’s open to all UConn students.”

In terms of his personal interests, Andrew informs me that he and his roommate want to become entrepreneurs. They are currently working on attaining an LLC license, and are working on a prototype compression program to make files smaller than they already are. “It’s based on a certain algorithm that we constructed; we’re implementing it now to see if it actually works. It’s for all types of large files, and our goal is to have the algorithm compress more than what’s currently offered.” When I ask him if he has a name for his LLC, a sudden jolt of energy bursts from him. “We don’t!” He says. “The hardest part is always coming up with the name! We’ve been trying to for the past year-and-a-half, and we still can’t come up with one.”

Andrew and his roommate hope to one day turn their LLC into a video game company that specializes in cloud gaming. Until then, they hope to penetrate the general technology industry with their algorithm and provide a more effective solution for compressing big data. They continuously share their technical knowledge with each other in preparation for the future, and let their mutual ambition inspire each other. “We were friends in high school and used to make video games together. Now, we just want to make those experiences something more than good memories.”








A Reflection: UConn Maker Fair

On Saturday, April 6th from 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM, UConn hosted its first official Maker Fair at Werth Residence Towers. There, all “makers”–artists, innovators, inventors, businesses, and more–were able to showcase their work while interacting with onlookers. In addition to the little expo, the second annual Modified Pinewood Derby also took place. There, competitors put their pinewood cars to the test by having them race against each other, each miniature vehicle engineered to perform and carrying its own unique design.

Due to the Maker Fair and the Modified Pinewood Derby partnering together for a single event, the Maker Fair had a huge turnout. Both those primarily interested in the makers and Derby fans were able to walk from maker station to maker station while Derby contestants waited to race their cars. Even a few contestants themselves came up to appreciate the various creations presented by the makers before the big race. Stations varied from a NASA project to a tailor’s clothing collection. There was variety abound.

Alongside the various makers, OPIM Innovate also attended the Maker Fair with its own table. There, Innovate lab specialist Robert McClardy demonstrated the capabilities of various technologies such as virtual reality headsets, biosensors, augmented reality equipment, and drones. “Overall, it was a neat event,” McClardy said.

We thank everyone who attended the Maker Fair and stopped by our booth!


A Reflection: OPIM Innovate Alexa Skill-Building Workshop

On Friday, March 29th, OPIM Innovate hosted its Alexa Skill-Building Workshop from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM in the Gladstein Lab, BUSN 309. Led by Tyler Lauretti (MIS ’18), a Travelers Information Technology Leadership Development Program employee and Alexa developer, the workshop introduced Amazon’s Alexa service through the lens of artificial intelligence and offered attendees the opportunity to develop their own Alexa skills, or voice-activated applications, with a zero-code graphical interface called Voiceflow.

Before introducing attendees to Alexa skill building, Lauretti wanted to describe the Alexa with artificial intelligence (A.I.) terminology. “The speech recognition and natural language processing realms [of A.I.] really make up the core of Alexa,” said Lauretti, “but what really makes Alexa and other voice assistants strong and powerful is machine learning.” Alexa, through speech and natural language processing, is able to extract pertinent information from voice requests and transform recordings into text. From these voice requests, she is also able to extract information to formulate a text response, and then voice that response to the user. With machine learning added to the mix, Alexa is able to learn with each request, and her underlying models get better over time. This is why, for example, an Alexa user with a strong accent is more easily understood the more they use the device.

In addition to the A.I. exposition of the workshop, Lauretti also clarified a few common, yet incorrect assumptions about the Amazon Alexa. For one, the Alexa cannot be purchased from Amazon, unlike their Echo and Dot smart speakers. Why? Unlike Amazon’s physical hardware, the Alexa is a cloud-based voice service that connects to all Amazon smart devices and some third-party devices. As such, while Alexa is a complement to Amazon’s smart speakers, she is also the overarching artificial intelligence framework that keeps every device responsive. When Alexa is asked something through a smart speaker, for example, a recording of the request is sent to the Amazon cloud for processing and analysis. Then, once the meaning of the message is predicted, Alexa gives you her best response.

As Alexa is a speech and natural language processor, developing apps for her is restricted to her ability to “hear” and to “speak.” As such, for Alexa skills, they have to be built so that they are “voice first,” or able to be used with just vocal input. This can be a weakness in some cases, especially for developers who want to create Alexa skills that may require the user to divulge sensitive information out loud. In Lauretti’s experience, the best way to develop an Alexa skill is to have it be “something that’s fun for you to do.” This can range from Disney trivia to teaching Alexa how to help users figure out whether or not they should order pizza or wings for the night, skills Lauretti has created in the past. Skill building can also be practical for businesses, and many businesses are currently building their own Alexa skills to make the customer experience better. Yet, like with speaking with a friend, Alexa responses should always include natural contractions and pauses, utilize follow-up questions, and have variation like “Sure!” and “Got it!”.

Before utilizing Voiceflow, Lauretti had attendees create paper fortune tellers (shown to the right). The point of the exercise was to show how Alexa can only process voice information, and cannot utilize any other “senses” in order to make a decision. As such, while paper fortune tellers require you to pull, fold, unfold, and process visual information, Alexa cannot do that with her limitations; she can only be programmed to listen and respond. Thus, when attendees began to use Voiceflow, which allows you to chain commands and responses together in a circular decision-tree-like diagram, all of the different blocks available for use on the graphical interface involved either speaking or listening for information. For example, in emulating a paper fortune teller game, a “Speak” block can be created with directions on which color to pick so Alexa can voice them to the user. Then, that “Speak” block can be chained to a “Choice” block outlining all of the different choices to search for in the voice input (blue, red, yellow, or green, for example). If the user does not pick a color on that list, the “Choice” block can be linked back to the “Speak” block through an “else” option so Alexa can clarify the different color choices, again. As can be inferred, an Alexa skill diagram utilizing Voiceflow can become very involved very quickly. However, even if the visual model can become fairly complex, it is very simple to build.

After the Alexa Skill-Building Workshop, many students left with a greater understanding of the Alexa service and Alexa skills. “I didn’t realize how simple it was to make skills for your Alexa,” said Calvin Mahlstedt (MIS ’19) in reference to the Voiceflow interface (shown on the left). As for Joanne Cheong (MIS ’20), she was amazed by the many uses Alexa skills can have. “They can be used for various things like controlling smart home devices, providing quick information from the web, and challenging users with puzzles or games,” she said. Robert McClardy was impressed with the security of Amazon Alexa products: “They’re not as huge a vulnerability in comparison to the number of other means that data can be compromised.” 

For those of you interested in learning more about Voiceflow and Alexa skill building, OPIM Innovate has tech kits available for you to explore, including a tutorial on how to make the voice-enabled fortune teller game featured in the workshop. For those who want a more code-oriented skill-building experience, consider downloading the free Alexa Skills Kit which includes tools, documentation, and code samples for exploration.

Thank you to all of those who attended the Alexa Skill-Building Workshop! We hope to see you in future workshops!






Attention! Scholarships Available!

Werth Innovator Scholarship Program (for 2019-2020 Sophomores):

The Werth Innovator Scholarship Program helps young entrepreneurs propel their ideas forward with financial assistance, mentorship, and transformative experiences. Currently, they are accepting applications from freshmen who have already begun transforming their innovative ideas into reality.

The Werth Innovator Scholarship Program provides students with a $3,000 scholarship and the honor of becoming an ambassador for various entrepreneurship activities during their sophomore year. As there will be more than one recipient, each Werth Innovator will be part of a supportive peer group; thus, all members will be able to collaborate with each other to make their individual ideas stronger.

To apply to become a Werth Innovator, please click here. Please note that applications close on Friday, April 12th and that an interview process may occur.