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Brewing new apps to help nonprofits

Learning a skill with earning potential.

Brewing new apps to help nonprofits by Laura L. Otto

Milwaukee convention-goers will soon be able to get immediate information on daily sessions, speakers, schedule changes and more – just by consulting their smartphones.

UWM students in the university’s Mobile Innovation Lab have created a mobile app for Visit Milwaukee that also features popular tourist destinations, maps, local news and more.

The lab, also called the “App Brewery” because of its location in the Pabst Brewery complex, employs nearly 20 UWM students who apply skills learned in coursework to projects for area nonprofits.

All the students who are in the Brewery right now could spin off their own companies. That is what’s really going to have a lasting impact from this program.

Quinn Madson, UWM Mobile Innovation Lab

Coursework is offered by the School of Information Studies (SOIS), but students staffing the lab come from diverse majors, including information studies, business, engineering, computer science and arts.

“The App Brewery experience combined with the school’s course array gives students a venue for applying their classroom learning,” says WooSeob Jeong, interim dean of the School of Information Studies. “It really showcases the best of SOIS and UWM, while providing an invaluable experience for our students to work within the community.”

Aaron Hartwig, a junior in engineering, is in his second year at the App Brewery.

The App Brewery is growing with the addition of five more student app developers, including Katherine Becker (from left), Jon Major Condon, Jai Moua, Michael Naunheim and Kayleigh Rappaport

The App Brewery is growing with the addition of five more student app developers, including Katherine Becker (from left), Jon Major Condon, Jai Moua, Michael Naunheim and Kayleigh Rappaport

“These are real-world projects for very real clients,” he says. “You don’t feel like you’re at a university when you’re in these [client] meetings. You feel like you’re working for some company.”

The use of mobile apps to navigate conventions is becoming the norm, says Brent Foerster, vice president of sales and marketing for Visit Milwaukee.

“We have limited budgets, and yet, we’re being evaluated on our ability to compete against other cities,” he says. “Without the collaborative approach to help us produce these tools that we need to stay competitive, I just don’t know how we would do it.”

Student workers are also working on apps for the Sojourner Family Peace Center. Also, the Brewery held a summer camp this year for high school students who worked on an app for the Urban Ecology Center.

Students want to use the device that we all have in our back pockets as a way of making a difference, says Michael Hostad, director of web and mobile strategy at UWM. But they also want to learn a skill with earning potential, he says.

“The moment you walk onto the campus, there is already this opportunity to help make sure that when you graduate, you’ll be able to start a career right away,” says Anthony Jesmok, a junior in SOIS.

The App Brewery is another place where UWM students can be exposed to skills that will allow them to operate their own businesses.

“All the students who are in the Brewery right now could spin off their own companies,” says lead app developer Quinn Madson. “That is what’s really going to have a lasting impact from this program.”