UM students tap into tech design through internships and bring projects to life

By Jenny Hudak/News @ The U – Guest Contributor

Department of Information Technology teams engage students in real-world experiences to create emerging technologies.

What if an application on your phone could use augmented reality (AR) to identify the caloric value of a meal by simply taking a picture? At the University of Miami, a team of students, in collaboration with faculty members, are working to make “AR Calories” a reality.

AR Calories is among several emerging technologies that students can work on through internships and apprenticeships with the University’s Department of Information Technology (UMIT).  

“Our mission is to support innovation at the University of Miami by helping faculty with their teaching and research,” said Max Cacchione, director of innovation at UMIT and director of the Innovate team. “And by the same token, we train the students in these advanced technologies so they can get great jobs when they graduate.” 

As part of the Innovate team, students learn to build and execute AR and extended reality (XR) experiences, including faculty projects funded by the provost’s XR Initiative. Faculty members who receive these grants are exploring ways XR can be implemented to enhance teaching and research and to revolutionize advanced medical treatments.

“We are really pushing them to actually do the real work and be proactive. The reason this whole thing works is that everybody wants to be there. All the students want to do it,” Cacchione said.

Nate Joseph, a sophomore studying computer engineering, is among a group of student interns on the Innovate team working on AR Calories.

Joseph and other team members collaborate with doctors from the Miller School of Medicine’s Department of Radiation Oncology who envision using the software to help cancer patients keep track of their food intake, thus increasing their chances of survival. He spent his summer months building the project from scratch.

“Working for the Innovate team, we’re creating things that are completely new every day, things that have never been done before in technology,” Joseph said.

Having experience with this level of technical skill, Joseph said, makes him unique among his peers. In addition to learning about rapid prototype building, students on the Innovate team also acquire skills that complement their in-classroom learning at the University, such as 3D modeling, Unity programming, and Agile project management. 

“These student internships are beneficial to the students, faculty, and staff alike,” said Allan Gyorke, chief academic technology officer. “Students gain incredible hands-on experience with new technologies. That experience plus a UM degree is a powerful combination. Faculty get the help they need to convert their ideas into working prototypes. Staff get to work closely with students and faculty, which connects us to the mission of the University. It’s a great program.”

The UMIT team is well acquainted with helping talented individuals, like Rachel de Paz, launch successful careers. De Paz, who graduated in the spring of 2022 with a degree in computer engineering, worked with the Innovate team on Magic Leap, AR, and XR projects under the supervision of Cacchione. 

Upon graduating in May, de Paz landed a job doing user experience (UX) prototyping for Samsung Electronics. 

“The interpersonal skills, the technical skills where we’re constantly researching and using new technology, and the prototyping skills that I was taught have been so essential to my success as a professional in this space,” she said. “My experience has really helped me excel in this position right out of college.”

In the last few years, several UMIT interns and Innovate team members have been hired across the globe at Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft—placing them all at the forefront of innovation technology.

On UMIT’s Rapid Application Development (RAD) team, student interns help to develop, prototype, research, and test digital solutions for University partners. Interns work on projects using programs like Salesforce, a cloud-based software that offers customer relationship management apps focused on automation, analytics, and application development.

Florence Parodi, executive director of the RAD team, has fostered a culture of mentorship with student interns since 2013.

“One of the areas we focus on through our internships is teaching students the core skills that will be repeatable in the careers they go on to pursue,” she said. Nina Gomez-Fernandini, an architect on the RAD team, was one of Parodi’s very first students. 

“I remember being a psychology major, but through this opportunity I realized, ‘This is what I want to do.’” Gomez-Fernandini recalls. Now, she works alongside Parodi to oversee students working on UMIT teams and offer them the same kind of mentorship she received just a few years ago.

Dylan Waks, a junior studying finance and sport administration, didn’t plan on finding a passion in technology. His work as an intern, which has included designing technology solutions implemented at ’Canes Central kiosks on the Coral Gables Campus, has equipped him with a new knowledge base as he prepares to start his career. 

“It has greatly improved my business and interpersonal skills. I have been able to meet with external vendors, learn plenty of new business analysis skills, and work with different departments [on campus] throughout this internship,” Waks said. 

Complementing the functions of the Innovate and RAD teams is the Integrated Solutions team, which supports University cloud services, databases, and applications such as Adobe Creative Cloud and Microsoft Office. 

All of these unique experiences, Cacchione noted, are what make students strong candidates for job opportunities upon graduating.

Visit the UMIT website for more information about this department.

This story was published by University of Miami’s News @ The U and reposted here with permission.