Students develop app to retain young people in GR

GVL / Emily Frye

GVL / Emily Frye

Drew Howard

Grand Valley State University students and faculty are working together to create a new smartphone app that aims to retain young, bright individuals within Grand Rapids.

Tentatively titled “YGR,” the application is purposed with collecting information on transportation, restaurants, events, shops and more in Grand Rapids for the use of the average citizen or tourist.

If all goes as planned, “YGR” will be a handy guide to just about everything happening in the city for both entertaining and practical use.

“I wanted it to be this all-encompassing thing,” said Ryan Hoogstra, a student who helped develop the concept for the app. “A lot of the info we want to include is already out there, so it’s just about getting all that info into one place.”

Hoogstra helped develop the idea among other students in a GVSU class called special topics in public administration. The class was created with the help of Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell and GVSU President Thomas Haas.

“I think this is really something that can put a positive impact on the city,” Hoogstra said. “I don’t think this is going to just be a Grand Rapids app. It could be nationwide, no matter what city you are in.”

Hoogstra said one of his favorite parts about the app is the restaurant section.

“Each week, my hopes would be a different restaurant would get ‘the restaurant of the week,’” Hoogstra said. “It allows restaurants to get their name out and gives people a reason to branch out and try new things.”

Another feature on the app will allow anyone to upload their own event with the help of an app administrator.

“Build your event is a button on the bottom of the activities page that allows the user to create their own event,” Hoogstra said. “An example of this could be a block party or a cultural festival. Not many people hear about these through word of mouth.”

The inspiration for the name “YGR” came to him on the first day of class, Hoogstra said.

“The reason behind the name came at the first day when President Haas wrote on the board ‘Why Grand Rapids,’” he said. “I think it’s a perfect name. It asks why am I in Grand Rapids, what is there to do, and it’s simple and clear on the app icon.”

Heartwell tasked students in the class with finding new and innovative ways to retain youth within the city. At the end of the semester, students presented their ideas to the mayor.

At the State of the City Address, the mayor announced his plans to implement the “YGR” application along with two other ideas.

Mark Hoffman, the GVSU professor who facilitated Hoogstra’s class, said Grand Rapids is at a disadvantage without a clearly defined entertainment district.

“When people visit for a short time, they cannot just visit the entertainment district and see what is happening,” Hoffman said. “This app evens the playing field. Young visitors who are used to using apps will see all the choices they have and not conclude there is nothing to do in Grand Rapids.”

The app will also be useful to people who are already living in the area, Hoffman said.

“I observed that many students in the class were unaware of the variety of activities available in Grand Rapids, even though they live relatively close,” he said. “This app will help GVSU students find networking, entertaining and educational activities in Grand Rapids, which will benefit both the community and the students.”

Actual development of the app begins in the upcoming fall semester in a class taught by GVSU professor David Lange, who teaches in the school of computing and information systems.

A release date for the app is still being determined.

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