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Sudanese Women In Roanoke Get Unexpected Help Online

At the BIT Senior Showcase Day, business information technology senior Elon Daghigh answers a visitor's questions about his team's project to create a website to help Sudanese refugee women in Roanoke market their handsewn goods.

by Sookhan Ho

Women in Roanoke’s Sudanese refugee community will soon have their own website to sell their handmade goods, thanks to a team of Pamplin College of Business students who undertook the website development as their senior class project.

The students — all business information technology majors in professor Alan Abrahams Business Analysis Seminar in IT class — are Elon Daghigh of Fairfax Station; Daniel Booth of Blue Ridge; and Michelle Ching of Fairfax.

The developed website is on a temporary, grading server and will be moved to a live server and domain once these are set up, said Daghigh, who led the project and, along with Booth and Ching, is training the women to use the site.

“Sewing is a way for the Roanoke Sudanese Women’s Group to come together to learn a new skill while practicing English,” the students wrote in their report. The women sell their goods — including bags, dolls, blankets, placemats, and garments — at community events to raise money and awareness. The proceeds support the Sudanese Peace Dancers, a youth group, and development projects in Sudan. “By selling their goods at community events, the women educate their neighbors about Sudan, South Sudan, and all refugees who live in the Roanoke Valley,” the students noted.

Community events, however, offered only a limited pool of customers, and the women wanted to expand their market through an e-commerce site. Through Dan Nemes, a project manager with AmeriCorps VISTA and coordinator with the Coalition for Refugee Resettlement Project at Virginia Tech’s Center for Student Engagement and Community Partnerships, the women were linked up with Abrahams’ students.

The students envisaged a website for online customer transaction processing and inventory tracking. The system would allow customers to add products to their shopping carts and create individual accounts to allow them to view previous orders and store personal information for speedier checkouts, their report noted. “A site editor should be able to edit inventory levels as well as add, remove, or edit product information.”

The complete website has received favorable feedback from Nemes and the Sudanese group members. “The website is striking,” said Nemes, adding that the women were all generally impressed with the site. “It was a pleasure to work with the students from Professor Abrahams’ class.”

The students went to Roanoke earlier this spring to meet with members of the women’s group whom they have emailed regularly during the course of the three-month project. The women “did a great job being ‘customers’ in that they were quite clear on everything they wished the site to accomplish,” Daghigh said.

“It is certainly very rewarding for us to be able use our talents and skills developed over our years at [Virginia] Tech to help the Sudanese women’s group,” he said. Being able to work with an actual client gave him and his teammates valuable experience, he added. “Michelle and I are beginning our careers as [information technology] consultants, and bringing in outside expertise to help an organization accomplish its goals is at the core of what consulting is about.”

The class projects, Abrahams said, allow students to apply software discussed in the course, which provides a comprehensive study of decision support systems as managerial tools, particularly in an e-commerce environment. “The course emphasizes problem solving through integrating various quantitative techniques and practical application of e-business technology.”

The other student teams in the class all tackled assignments related to “social buying,” a theme Abrahams chose in view of the current popularity of such sites as Groupon and Living Social.

The students displayed their completed projects in the Pamplin atrium at an event sponsored by Capital One. Jennifer Keller, a portfolio manager at the company, said she was struck by the creativity and teamwork that went into each presentation and “how each team was able to take a single concept and develop a unique working site that encompasses emerging social shopping, marketing, and up-and-coming technology.”

The projects reflected “some really creative and impressive ideas around the shopping-site concept,” said Chris Baines, a senior production support specialist at Capital One. “I particularly enjoyed seeing the teams break down the projects into real-world roles and responsibilities, even going so far as to outsource highly skilled work,” said Baines, who earned a computer engineering degree from Virginia Tech in 2009. “It really impressed me how prepared they are for working in a larger enterprise, and I can see why Capital One has been so successful recruiting from the business information technology program at Virginia Tech.”

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