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Dickinson College Students Help Local Small Businesses Weather COVID-19 Shutdown

Carlisle Drone Photo

The town of Carlisle.

Dickinsonians build e-commerce sites for small businesses in need

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

As nonessential small businesses close their doors nationwide to help flatten the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dickinson students are helping some of the most vulnerable small businesses in Carlisle weather the storm. Now in its early stages, this volunteer project partners local businessowners who do not have e-commerce systems in place with computer-science majors who can provide a framework to bring in needed revenue during this difficult time.

The efforts are led by Professor of Computer Science Grant Braught, who consulted with local businesses in need—identified by the Carlisle Area Chamber of Commerce—then identified the best online tools for their project and matched student volunteers with the businesses. Of the 15 computer-science majors in the volunteer pool, four have already begun to work with the Carlisle community members, connecting via videoconference and email as they finish the spring semester from home.

First up: C-Luv Thrift, a consignment shop launched last year by George Kretzing and Mary Carlton, which counts Dickinson students among its loyal customers.

"Things were going well with the business until our doors closed because of the shutdown,” says Carlton. “We knew we needed to keep our name out there, but we didn’t know what website or tools to use, or how to get it going. It was overwhelming, and it's so good to have someone come in and say, 'Hey, I can help.' ”

After building a basic site and videoconferencing with the businessowners, Tara Dedrickson '21 and Ian Shull '22 got to work, collaborating with Shayyan Malik ’21, a design-minded computer-science major, to ensure the site’s look is in tune with company branding. The new C-Luv Thrift site supports gift-card and merchandise sales. Within the first few hours of operation, C-Luv had three orders for Carlisle High School sweatshirts, sold in partnership with the school’s store.

“Seeing how hard, financially, this pandemic has been on companies and individuals, I wanted to do anything I could to help,” says Dedrickson, a  data science student-researcher and triple major in computer science, mathematics and quantitative economics who sharpened her professional skills last summer as a developer intern at Enterprise Knowledge.

Maximiliano Rios ’21, a longtime volunteer with the Wounded Warrior Project, and Jessie Anker ’21, a Red Devil soccer player who manages a swimming website, are now consulting with Bead Emporium owner Courtney Genise and learning the software they’ll use to build her e-commerce site. Four more local businesses have expressed interest so far, and Braught is in contact with them.

The project taps into the spirit of ongoing national and international humanitarian projects involving computer science and professors, including Braught, who’s nationally recognized for bringing open-source projects into his classes. Senior computer-science majors work on open-software projects during their capstone seminar, and a new Computing for the Greater Good thread provides a chance for all computer-science majors to help effect positive change. Next year, in partnership with the College Farm and the FarmOS Project, the department will weave free- and open-source organic-farming projects into its second-year curriculum.

While these opportunities allow students to make a difference while gaining practical professional experiences and skills, the chance to work with local businesses brings an additional dimension of meaning to the work, says Anker. “I really wanted to help out the Carlisle community as much as I could, because I enjoy a lot of the local shops and restaurants,” she explains. “Carlisle is my home away from home.”

Read more stories about how members of the Dickinson community near and far have responded to emerging needs and challenges during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Published April 10, 2020