During the spring 2019 semester, undergraduate computer science students Sarah Wan and Derrick Aaron and graduate computer science student Kevin Gao began working with New York Tech’s information technology (IT) team to develop the New York Tech Chatbot. The AI-based bot framework is designed to answer many common questions prospective students and other constituents may have about admissions, registration, Service Central (help desk), human resources, and financial aid in real time. The Chatbot appears on screens when visiting the Admissions, Registrar, and Service Central landing pages.
The team of students worked with Laurie Harvey, M.B.A., director of Academic Technology Services, Yongxin Ma, director of New York Tech’s Data Warehouse and manager of the university-wide project, and Vikas More, system architect and security specialist for the Data Warehouse, as well as Salman Javid Malik (M.S. ’19 ), who worked on the project before he graduated.
The students also worked on a research paper about the project. At the start of the spring 2020 semester, “Applied research and technology innovation: Building AI-Aided Enterprise Intelligent Bot,” was accepted for presentation at the American Society for Engineering Education Northeast Conference.
“We wrote this paper as the first step to be reviewed and accepted into a popular conference, where many companies and schools come together to pitch their ideas. By doing so, we may receive feedback, publicize our innovative Chatbot with the latest technology in the market, and potentially get sponsored to fund the continuation of our project,” says Wan.
“Accomplishments of our students at the College of Engineering and Computing Sciences always bring us pride. The acceptance of the paper authored by Derrick, Kevin, and Sarah is another testament to the fact that our students are doers, makers, innovators, and inventors,” says Babak D. Beheshti, Ph.D., dean of NYIT College of Engineering and Computing Sciences.
Prospective students and other constituents can use New York Tech’s Chatbot to get answers to questions they have about admissions, registration, IT, human resources, and financial aid.
Under the supervision and guidance of New York Tech’s IT staff, the students initially worked as a team and took on responsibilities in specific areas. Once they came on board, the students quickly adapted and learned the necessary platforms and programs to help build the bot including, the Microsoft Azure platform, the programming languages C# and Python, SQL Server databases, Chatbot, and the Microsoft Power Apps and DevOps platforms.
“The Computer Science, B.S. has major components related to the Chatbot, such as coding and Microsoft SQL Server. These components, as well as a few others, are what allows the Chatbot to run optimally and with the correct corresponding dialogue,” says Aaron.
Along with these technologies, the students learned about industry best practices and gained real-world working experience in their field of study. “With the experience I gained from this project, I can showcase the skills I have learned and implemented into the Chatbot project, as well as inform my employers that I have experience in up-to-date technologies,” says Wan.
After a year of working on this project, the students were able to work independently on the assignments given to them. Gao became the core/key developer and lead programmer behind the bot framework. “Kevin demonstrated his capabilities on learning and programing far beyond his age and his class level,” says Ma.
Gao is also sharing his knowledge with fellow students Sarah Wan, Yuk Ho Cheung, Kevin Park, and Konstantin Tekin for their senior design group project Chatbot Application. He will help the group learn and build the bot framework. In turn, the students will help the Office of Financial Aid add and edit more content and workflow used in the bot.
In October 2019, Pennie Turgeon, M.B.A., New York Tech’s vice president of information technology and chief information officer, presented the New York Tech Chatbot framework at EDUCAUSE, an annual higher education IT conference, together with Microsoft and BlueGranite, a Microsoft partner.
The Chatbot was silently rolled out on New York Tech’s website in December 2019. The students involved with the project gained valuable real-world experience, working with cutting-edge cloud technology and allowing them to become experienced programmers within a short period. “Engaging students for the development of this application for New York Tech was a win-win-win situation,” says Ma. “The students gained the real-world working experience and knowledge beyond the classroom; they helped IT with their workload, and aided New York Tech to roll out the state-of-art and cutting edge technology of this Chatbot.”