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Grant from Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Will Establish Saint Louis University Open-Source Software Center

by Maggie Rotermund
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Maggie Rotermund
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ST. LOUIS – A $704,482 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation will establish the Saint Louis University Open-Source Software Center.

The grant, awarded to Kate Holdener, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer science, will fund the creation of a new software engineering lab which will engage students in the development of open-source software to support interdisciplinary projects in the STEM fields.

Kate Holdener
Kate Holdener, Ph.D.

“Our graduate students are building software now in their project-based, two-semester capstone course,” Holdener said. “They can build whatever the client needs, but once they build it, there isn’t a structure for support or maintenance.”

The Center will engage graduate and undergraduate students in open-source software development, focusing on research software projects that help SLU faculty reach and advance their research goals. Faculty members will be able to submit software requests, then graduate students will work alongside SLU researchers to determine details of these requests, prototype and design software solutions.

Undergraduate computer science students enrolled in project-based courses will also engage with the Center as part of their course curriculum, working under the mentorship of graduate students to implement various designs and test produced software using industry standard practices.

“This allows us to work in a more professional way,” Holdener said. “The projects will come in and the graduate students will work to split them into smaller tasks so pieces of the project can be handled by students at various skill levels.”

The new Center would allow faculty who need software support for their research to keep the work in house at SLU, furthering the interdisciplinary research goals of the University.

Holdener said she was also excited about the opportunities the Center will provide in the way of practical experience for undergraduate students.

“This also allows our students to get real experience that they can show to an employer,” she said. “All of the entry-level positions in the computer science field still want experience. This will give our students a chance to build up their resumes in a publicly visible way.”

Holdener said after she had the idea for expanding SLU’s open-source software capabilities, she sought out funding opportunities. The Sloan Foundation grant seemed like the perfect fit.

In addition to stipends for graduate students, the two-year Sloan Foundation grant will also fund a program director, who will oversee the Center and work towards financial sustainability. That includes other external grant funding opportunities as well as opportunities for local technology companies to support the Center’s initiatives.

“I am thrilled, honored and thankful to be awarded this grant,” Holdener said. “I wanted to create an environment that brings classroom software engineering closer to reality, and I believe this Center will provide such an environment.”

Holdener spent a decade at Exegy, Inc. as a software engineer, senior API engineer and product manager, before coming to SLU four years ago.

“It was great to have industry experience, but after 10 years I was not learning anything new,” she said. “Now I have the opportunity to learn new things all the time – I’m the happiest person at SLU.”

SLU researchers and faculty may make requests for development or updates to open-source software for research endeavors here. Questions can be directed to oss@slu.edu.

Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is a not-for-profit, mission-driven grantmaking institution dedicated to improving the welfare of all through the advancement of scientific knowledge. Established in 1934 by Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr., then-President and Chief Executive Officer of the General Motors Corporation, the Foundation makes grants in four broad areas: direct support of research in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and economics; initiatives to increase the quality, equity, diversity, and inclusiveness of scientific institutions and the science workforce; projects to develop or leverage technology to empower research; and efforts to enhance and deepen public engagement with science and scientists.

Saint Louis University

Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers nearly 13,000 students a rigorous, transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares students to make the world a better, more just place.