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Engineering students compete in RJI contest

Engineering students Jamar Williams and Zach Winkler, along with journalism students Alex Blum, Russell Chapin, Derrick Ho and Scott Wexler, and MBA candidate Francesco Marconi made up the winning team at the 2012 Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) Student Competition. The teams widget allows local advertisers to integrate their messages with personalized news content on Hearst newspaper websites. Pictured, from left, are Marconi, Wexler, Williams, Chapin, Ho, Blum and Winkler.

Two computer science students from the University of Missouri College of Engineering were on the winning team of the 2012 Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) Student Competition. Jamar Williams and Zach Winkler coded a widget allowing local advertisers to integrate their messages with personalized news content on Hearst newspaper websites.

The winning team, one of three, also included four journalism students, Alex Blum, Russell Chapin, Derrick Ho and Scott Wexler, and an MBA candidate, Francesco Marconi.

Williams was the backend programmer for the team and Winkler designed the web interface and the recommendation algorithm for the widget.

“It was all the skills I learned from the computer science classes I’ve had,” Williams said.

Winkler agreed that the coding skills from his classes were essential. “It was a great experience,” Winkler said. “It was a lot of work but really fun.”

Williams said the competition was time consuming and high-pressure. The teams had only three months to design a new revenue source for Hearst’s newspaper and television stations using web analytics. “Spring break wasn’t really a break,” Williams said. “But it paid off in the end.”

Hearst Innovation sponsored the contest, as it has for the past three years.
“At Hearst we’re constantly challenging ourselves to focus on the future,” said Beth Polish, director of Hearst Innovation. “Our partnership with RJI is a very fulfilling way to nurture and support our own pioneering culture, while encouraging the same spirit in the next generation of media leaders. We congratulate all the talented students who took part in this year’s competition, especially the winners, on their impressive work and dedication to shaping the future of media.”

Polish said the product created by the winning team had clear applications beyond the newspaper side of the business.

The winners will get an all-expense paid trip to New York in late May to share their project with other Hearst executives and take part in a Missouri School of Journalism alumni event. All of the students who participated received a third generation iPad.

A second team made up of Melanie Gibson, Henrietta Farley, Habet Madoyan and Inna Volyanska also developed a new revenue opportunity for Hearst newspapers by suggesting ways to maximize digital slideshows.

Two other student teams worked for Hearst Television’s digital advertising unit.  Team A (Jessica Cui, Theresa Oberle, Alan Provance, Amber Zhong) and Team B (Caroline Elliott, Stephanie Graflage, Stanford Griffith, Lindsey Miller, Philip Prouhet, Elizabeth Stratman) designed dashboards to help advertisers on Hearst television web sites get a clearer handle on the performance of their campaigns.

Alan Provance is a computer science student and was a member of Team A. He said he enjoyed the opportunity to work with journalism students.

“It’s been very eye-opening,” Provance said. “I learned to code under a lot of pressure.”
The announcement of the winners kicked off the third day of RJInnovation Week 2012 that features innovative student projects supported by RJI, the Missouri School of Journalism and the College of Engineering’s IT program.

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