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Got a headache? Harrisburg University is working on an app that tracks migraines

Harrisburg University professors Dr. Erin Buchanan and Philip Grim II are working with a team of students on a new migraine tracking app. PHOTO/ PROVIDED

A group of Harrisburg University professors and students are working on a phone app that will track migraine symptoms and help doctors develop individual treatment plans for patients.

The app would allow patients to track their migraines and symptoms with a built-in assessment tool that would record the frequency of attacks, medication usage and triggers. The app would also collect data from participants that could be used in future studies.

Dr. Erin Buchanan, a cognitive analytics professor at the university, began the project after she was contacted by Missouri-based clinical research group Clinvest. Buchanan said she was interested in working on the project because it uses her skills in cognitive analytics and could provide a real impact for people suffering from migraines.

“(Clinvest) contacted me to discuss the creation of a measurement tool to assess the full migraine patient – not simply just head pain, but also all the associated symptoms that come with migraine including social life and work-related issues,” she said.

Buchanan is working on the project with Philip Grim II, a computer science professor at HU and Dr. K.D. Valentine of the Center for Health Decision Science at Harvard University.

The team was also awarded a research grant from Harrisburg University that has allowed Buchanan to bring on four HU students into the project to get first-hand experience in app development.

Harrisburg University hosts financial literacy education conference

Harrisburg University of Science and Technology is hosting its first financial literacy education conference–a free, one day program that offers strategies to promote financial literacy in schools.

The PA Financial Literacy Education Conference: A day for the future of financial literacy will be held April 2.

The event is open to the public and is expected to bring in policy makers, educators, practitioners, students and community members to hear ideas on how to improve the state’s financial education, said Jay Liebowitz, distinguished chair of applied business and finance for the university.

Liebowitz has led the university’s financial literacy initiatives for the past six years, which includes both the financial literacy education strategies event as well as the school’s financial literacy contest for middle and high school students.

State Rep. Michael Driscoll, D-Philadelphia, is scheduled to talk about House Bill 267, a bill Driscoll proposed in the House last year that would require personal finance instruction for every public school student from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Other talks during the event will include an update on financial literacy education research; an overview of Pennsylvania school districts that offer high school financial literacy education; discussions between school superintendents and school board members on why their schools are committed to personal finance education and more.

The conference is scheduled to begin at 8:45 a.m. at the university’s academic center at 326 Market Street. Guests can RSVP for the event at the university’s website.

Harrisburg’s longest running mayor leaves an equally long legacy

Former Penn National Insurance CEO Jim Taylor and Former Harrisburg mayor Stephen Reed take the first strikes in the groundbreaking of the insurance company’s upcoming 15-story headquarters in the city’s downtown in 1994. PHOTO/SUBMITTED

For most of his time as president and CEO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and CREDC, it was not uncommon for David Black to receive a phone call from Harrisburg Mayor Stephen Reed asking for the chamber’s help to secure funding to bring a new business into the city.

If someone could potentially open a business in the city’s downtown, it was likely that Reed would put them on speaker phone and ask Black to help on a loan then and there.

“He was a mayor who was driven,” said Black. “His life was the city—he bled the city.”

Harrisburg’s mayor from 1982 to 2010, Reed was known for never taking no for an answer when it involved bettering the city and its economy, something that made him well known in both the state and federal arenas as he hunted for grants for projects to improve Harrisburg.

Reed died in January following a 14-year fight with prostate cancer. The legacy he left behind is a city that has become one of Dauphin County’s biggest economic drivers, contributing to 26,000 tourism-related jobs within Dauphin County.

During his 28-year tenure as mayor, Reed introduced initiatives that would make the city more appealing for businesses to set up shop and for visitors to enjoy.

“When it came to an idea for promoting the region, Steve did not have a shy bone in his body,” said Jeff Haste, chairman of the Dauphin County Board of Commissioners.

Under Reed’s leadership, Harrisburg welcomed a minor league baseball team to a newly renovated City Island, helped with the creation of a STEM learning center and a technology university in the city’s downtown and made the city attractive for restaurants, hotels and corporate headquarters.

A brand new Second Street

In the early 1980’s, Harrisburg’s Second Street consisted of boarded-up buildings and few businesses. Where Hilton Harrisburg hotel sits today, stood a XXX movie theater and nearby, an adult book store.

“It was awful,” said Black. “I remember seeing these Steve Reed signs on the boards covering the windows on Second Street. It’s hard to imagine compared to how vibrant it is today.”

Reed wanted to see Second Street grow into a thriving business sector but he was not the type to go about such a change slowly, said Haste. Instead, Reed cast a large net to find restaurants that would invest in his vision for the city. The ones that eventually found a home on the city’s ‘Restaurant Row’ have now come and gone, but they’ve been replaced by other businesses in and around Second Street.

“He was able to go through a generation or two of restaurants,” Haste said. “Some of the restaurants came, had their hay day and now they are gone—it continued beyond their time.”

The Hilton and Crowne Plaza

Second Street was also invigorated by the addition of the Hilton Harrisburg and Crowne Plaza Harrisburg-Hershey hotels.

By 1993, the city’s momentum was picking up speed when Penn National Insurance, formerly located in three four-story office buildings at 19th and Derry Streets, began looking for a place to build a tower to house its headquarters. The insurance company was unsuccessful with its search for a new property in the city and began looking elsewhere when Reed and his team intervened.

“A local developer who had been part of our board of directors for years, received some information from the mayor’s office with some ideas and proposals for ways that we could develop property on Market Square,” said Christopher Markley, a corporate spokesperson with Penn National.

Penn National ended up following through with the property on Market Square after receiving a $2.7 million financial package from Gov. Robert Casey. By 1996, the company finished its 15-story tower. Since then, Penn National has had a perfect view of Harrisburg’s revival as the city’s downtown brought with it more residential and business development, said Markley. There is a deep sense of pride within the organization in seeing how vibrant the city is today, he said.

Reed announced plans for what became Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in 2001 after a visit to Richmond, Va. PHOTO/FILES

More changes

When Reed became mayor, City Island made a name for itself as a concert venue. Throughout the 80’s the island between Harrisburg and Wormleysburg drew in acts like Metallica, Huey Lewis & The News, Billy Idol and the Grateful Dead.

Despite its status as a concert venue, the island also had a reputation as a haven for criminal activity—something that Reed hoped to deter when the city bought the Nashua, New Hampshire-based Nashua Pirates. The team was re-named the Harrisburg Senators in 1986, and Riverside Stadium was built the next year. In 2005 the stadium was renovated and renamed to FNB Field, and the city sold the team in 2006.

City Island became a popular site for tourists, lured by attractions such as the riverboat Pride of the Susquehanna, the Skyline Sports Complex, Water Golf on City Island and Lil’ Grabber Railroad.

A steady flow of projects meant to invigorate the city became a hallmark of Reed’s leadership, said Haste, who noted that every time a project was finished, the city’s “mayor for life” never rested on the accomplishment.

Between 1994 and 1999, the city began acquiring about 3,500 items for another destination meant to draw tourists to the city— the National Civil War Museum, which opened in 2001. To prepare for the museum, the Harrisburg Chamber took a trip to Richmond, Virginia. It was during that trip that Reed realized something else was missing in the capital city – a university. Richmond had one, Harrisburg should, too.

In 2001, Reed announced plans for a four-year college that would operate in the city as the Harrisburg Polytechnic Institute. By 2003, the institute changed its name to Harrisburg University of Science and Technology and invested more than $18 million to renovate the former YWCA building that became the school’s first home.

“Mayor Stephen R. Reed was a visionary whose foresight changed the landscape of Harrisburg,” said Dr. Eric Darr, president of Harrisburg University. “Under his leadership, Harrisburg University was created as a hub for STEM learning and economic development. He lived to see today’s HU recognized as a model of higher education and civic impact.”

Reed’s desire to grow the city as a destination for STEM learning also resulted in the groundbreaking of the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts in 1997. A task force formed by Reed helped the center acquire the grant funding from both Harrisburg and the Commonwealth that would help fund the project.

Reed’s failed projects

Two notable projects spearheaded by Reed did not succeed.

The first was his idea for a Wild West Museum, an attempt to continue the success of the Civil War museum. Reed spent more than $8 million of taxpayer money on artifacts. Plans for the museum were eventually discarded, but in 2015, former state Attorney General Kathleen Kane charged Reed with 499 criminal charges after approximately 1,800 of the artifacts were found in his Harrisburg home

Reed eventually plead guilty to 20 felony and misdemeanor counts related to receiving stolen property, and was sentenced to two years of probation and a fine.

The former mayor was also embroiled in attempts to improve the city’s incinerator. The incinerator was shut down in the early 2000’s by the federal government after a report by the Environmental Protection Agency noted it was polluting the air with dioxins.

Reed’s administration tried to reopen the incinerator and pay for it by charging fees to surrounding counties, the plan was unsuccessful. The firm working on the incinerator filed for bankruptcy and, over time, the city found itself $300 million in debt.

The city would have to sell bonds to pay another firm to finish the job. The city debt resulting from the project led to Pennsylvania offering a bailout to the city in 2011.

While there is no doubt both failed programs, particularly the incinerator, had a negative impact on Reed’s legacy, his supporters believe that they were minor compared to where Harrisburg is today.

“Everyone says that (the incinerator was a) big negative but I say, did the city ever go bankrupt? No,” said Haste. “It is not as big as a failure as everyone wants to make it out to be and there were lessons that can be learned from that.”

Business today

A man of many ideas and the willpower to get them done, Reed’s vision for a prosperous Harrisburg has left a significant mark on the city. While those who know him say he wouldn’t take no for an answer when he believed in an initiative for the city, Haste said what he learned most from the former mayor was to fight for something until he found a middle ground.

“If I didn’t agree with him, some people would take that as a no and take the ball and go somewhere else. Steve didn’t do that,” Haste said. “He would sit, think about what I said and he would find a way to incorporate my concerns into the plan to make sure it would happen”

If the city’s business sector has taken anything away from Reed’s leadership, his friend’s and longtime collaborators say it has been that sense of collaboration.

Economic drivers like Harrisburg University still have much to contribute to the city, according to Haste. With incoming additions like the university’s new Health Science Education Center under construction at South Third and Chestnut Streets, he said it will be hard to imagine how much more the city will grow.

Harrisburg University launches student-led product testing center

Harrisburg University professors are hoping to work with a variety of businesses as the school’s new User Experience Center takes shape in downtown Harrisburg. (PHOTO/ IOANNIS PASHAKIS)

Harrisburg University professors are hoping to work with a variety of businesses as the school’s new User Experience Center takes shape in downtown Harrisburg.

In January, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology announced it will open a User Experience Center on South Third Street. User Experience Centers are labs where staff test a client’s product on potential customers. The results from the testing can then be used by a business to see how efficient, safe and user friendly their product is.

The center’s permanent location is set to be finished in late spring but until then, the university has prepared a temporary space in its educational center on Market Street.

The center will allow students to get real world experience in the user experience space by working with businesses to test their products with different demographics of users.

Clients submit their products, such as a phone application, and the students work with a sample of users to see how a customer would use it. With HU’s incoming center, students could gather data from 30 to 40 people a day, said Adams Greenwood-Ericksen, the center’s director and associate professor of game studies and user experience at HU.

When the new center is complete, students will be able to test groups of 13 users at a time or conduct one on one user research.

“There are a lot of places that offer user experience testing generally, but relatively few that do the type of in-person product evaluation and hands-on user research work that we do,” said Greenwood-Ericksen, who joined the university last summer from Full Sail University in Orlando.

Greenwood-Ericksen helped develop a similar user-experience lab in Orlando, focused on testing products for the video game industry. Now he is working with HU to bring a similar lab, but with a broader client base.

Student staffing

The center will primarily be staffed by students in HU’s Human Centered Interaction Design Master’s of Science program, and students in the Interactive Media program’s new User Experience Design concentration. However, Greenwood-Ericksen said that he hopes students from other HU majors will be interested in working at the center.

The user experience space is an industry that is less technology oriented than other majors at HU and is easier for students with more of a background in the humanities to find a niche in, said Tamara Peyton, an assistant professor in HU’s User Experience Design concentration.

“Tech is saturated with people who can code, but what we need now is people who can connect it to the users,” Peyton said. “Until the last ten years, there were very few people (building technology) who understood people, which made us have to adapt to the tech.”

The temporary User Experience Center is already up and running with a number of out-of-state clients such as a major educational content publisher and a Europe-based video game developer. One of the purposes of the incoming center on South Third Street is to expand that clientele to local businesses.

“We would love to work with local accelerator programs, incubators or startups as well as with established groups that have specific needs or projects,” said Greenwood-Ericksen, adding that smaller companies benefit the most from user experience services, but high costs generally make such services inaccessible. “Because our educational mission allows us to keep our services affordable without reducing the quality, we can offer that kind of support even to startups and other smaller organizations.”

Better understanding

Budding software developers can make their product do what they set out for it to do, but understanding how that software will scale with growth, or knowing if the product could confuse or disinterest a user is vital to the process, said Andy Long, director of business development at Ben Franklin Technology Partners in Lancaster.

A lot of people who set out to create pieces of tech, often have less experience when it comes to creating software, Long said. “There is not a single piece of software worth its breath without user testing.”

The university will wants to bring bigger clientele into the fold such as health care and government organizations looking for help designing the user experience end of the software. The goal is to cast as wide of a net as possible with organizations of varying size so students working in the center have a star-studded resume when they graduate.

“The center acts as a real business and the students can say that they have real world experience,” Peyton said. “You have a graduate that’s 22 with a new user experience degree that can say they have two years of experience in the industry.”

The researchers graduating from HU could also be picked up by area businesses that decide to invest in their own user research capabilities, said Greenwood-Ericksen, who said he sees the program being a possible pipeline for businesses to start as a client and end with their own user experience staff.

Harrisburg University launches new user experience testing center

A new test facility operated by Harrisburg University students could help them find work after school and provide valuable user experience testing to midstate businesses.

The science and technology university announced on Thursday that it launched a temporary User Experience Center at its Market Street educational center as it prepares a permanent center on Third Street to be finished by late spring.

At the new center, Harrisburg University students can research and test unreleased products from clients to ensure that they will meet the needs of customers and find a foothold in their respective markets.

“The center will play a role in helping to further the university’s mission to train our undergraduate and graduate students for family-sustaining, professional science and tech careers, while bringing world-class user research, usability, and market insight services to HU and the greater central Pennsylvania community,” said Dr. Adams Greenwood-Ericksen, head of the new center and a Game Studies and User Experience Professor at HU.

Students and recent graduates of the college are already working at the temporary center and have worked on a number of unannounced educational video games and a project involving informal assessments in elementary and middle schools.

The center is currently being used by HU’s Human Centered Interaction Design Master’s of Science program as well as by students taking part in a new User Experience Design concentration under HU’s Interactive Media program.

The university plans to grow the program to offer services to a wider array of industries and use more of the school’s faculty and programs in the process, said Greenwood-Ericksen.

“User experience research and testing is a great addition to a lot of the core skills taught in any number of the undergrad and graduate programs on campus,” he said. “We’re looking for opportunities to partner with other groups on campus to bring in student researchers and projects.”

Harrisburg University Esports major to launch next year

Harrisburg University’s incoming Esports degree will teach students the skills needed to work in the growing competitive video game sports industry, according to school officials.

Starting next year, the university will begin offering the Bachelor of Science degree to its students. The degree will focus on skills in coaching and managing teams, Esports marketing and Esports analysis.

Harrisburg University has spent the last two years growing its Esports varsity program and designed the degree in response to a need it saw for careers in the industry.

“Harrisburg University develops undergraduate and graduate degree programs in response to market needs. And since launching our Esports collegiate team, we have watched an already booming Esports industry continue to grow,” said Dr. Eric Darr, president of Harrisburg University.

The workforce that will support players is nonexistent and degrees like the new program will help create that workforce, Darr said.

Esports has exploded in recent years with more viewers tuning in to watch the “League of Legends” world championship finals than the Super Bowl in 2018.

“Industry leaders are searching for highly skilled Esports professionals,” said Charles Palmer, the Harrisburg University professor who will lead the school’s Esports program. “This program will allow students to follow their passions and land a lucrative career in a $1 billion industry that continues to grow.”

Nerd Street Gamers, an Esports event production group based in Philadelphia, is set to help advise the school on the program as it begins its first semester this spring.

Harrisburg University adds live entertainment class to tap into local industry

Death Cab For Cutie performs at Harrisburg’s Riverfront Park on June 19. PHOTO PROVIDED

Harrisburg’s concert scene had room to grow when Harrisburg University decided to launch its own concert series—now a year into the program, the university is offering students an entry point into the live entertainment industry with a new course.

Live entertainment 101, a course put together by a number of experts in the live entertainment industry, is set to have its first class next month and will help students learn how to join an industry known for being difficult to enter.

The course builds on the success of Harrisburg University Presents, a concert series launched a year ago with The Struts at Club XL in Harrisburg. And it’s been a busy year since then for the series with Frank Schofield, director of music and media services for the university, bringing in internationally known acts such as Death Cab for Cutie and Grace Potter.

The series has been successful on two fronts, Schofield said; it’s selling out shows, and raising the university’s profile.

Frank Schofield, director of music and media services, had more than 18 years of experience working at IHeartMedia before joining the university to run its Harrisburg University Presents concert series. PHOTO/ IOANNIS PASHAKIS

“We came up with the concept that if we did some branding and some shows, and helped revive the music scene, that it would help with the branding of the university and raise awareness of all the good things the university has to offer,” he said.

Live entertainment is a growing industry in the midstate thanks to Lititz being home to some of the biggest names in the business. Despite the region’s connections to concert production companies like Atomic, Clair and Tait, there are many paths students can take to into the industry. Live entertainment includes booking, sales, marketing, design, production, sound and more that make up months of preparation for one concert.

“The live entertainment industry is a massive industry that people don’t know about and they don’t know how to get involved in,” Schofield said. “There is no entry point.”

Live Entertainment 101, a course created by Schofield along with Ami Gaio of Rock Lititz, and professors Charles Palmer and Barbara Geisler, is the university’s attempt at making such an entry point.

As part of the university’s bachelor of science in management, entrepreneurship and business administration, or MEBA program, the introductory course will walk its first batch of students through the different opportunities available in live entertainment.

The first 10 students to take the class will get hands on experience on the sets of Harrisburg University Presents’ shows and work with professional artists and tour and stage managers, said Schofield.

“I hope to learn as much as I can about the music industry,” said Donya Powell, a Harrisburg University student that plans to own their own record label. “In my four years of study, I have learned principals of business, but I have yet to see them used in the industry I dream to be in.”

Anyone interested in any facet of the industry would benefit from a general understanding of what makes up a concert, said Dan LaFauci, director of human resources for Atomic, a set construction, design and production company based in Lititz.

“A course focused on an introduction into the industry is a step in getting our local talent prepared to plug into companies like Atomic and others,” LaFauci said. “It is a great starting point but all of the technical training is important depending on the path someone wants to take.”

Schofield doesn’t want the class to sugar coat the industry and focus on the glamourous parts of running a concert. Instead, he hopes his students see the parts of the industry that no one else sees, like the logistics of catering to staff and the months of preparation that go into netting an act.

The class has already filled its ten available seats and the school hopes to take what it learns at the end of the semester and will be looking at how it can grow the concert series and the educational piece in the future, Schofield said.

“We’ve all been part of this process to create a course that we think will benefit the kids and make this a live entertainment college down the road.”

 

Double-edged sword: Digital technology can help businesses – except when it doesn’t

A pair of chainwide cash register crashes at Target Corp. in June, right around the heavy-sales Father’s Day weekend, may have cost the national retailer $50 million to $100 million in lost sales, according to some analysts.

The problems — one of which the company blamed on a “technology glitch,” while another was traced to a tech center run by NCR Corp. — were quickly corrected, but they also point to a deeper issue, said some local experts: Technology has helped to boost business productivity, but it’s also exposed companies to a host of challenges.

Richard Stoneberg (Photo: Submitted) –

“There is indeed a tradeoff between absolute security and meeting business needs and functions,” said Richard Stoneberg, chief information security officer of Allentown-based Netizen Corp., which serves as a ‘virtual’ CISO for several businesses. “If I turn off my computer, put it in a vault and I am the only possible person who could open it – I truly have very good security on that computer. But it is not terribly functional for me either. So the suggestion is pretty straightforward: Do a true IT security overview of your data and processes in a risk-based, cost-effective mindset.”

Each business will have a unique solution, he added, and “even businesses in the same type of work can be different. There are cloud-based solutions that can work,” as well as redundancies and others that can reduce the risk of outages.

In general, there are three “pillars of good security,” according to Stoneberg: confidentiality, integrity and availability. The first involves considering how data is kept confidential or secured against hackers. Integrity refers to the correct billing or charge to the correct person at the correct time, while availability ensures that a customer can actually purchase a company’s goods.

Preserve human element

The human component is another important factor, according to Devin J. Chwastyk, a Harrisburg-based member of McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC, and chair of the law firm’s privacy and data security group.

Devin J. Chwastyk (Photo: Submitted) –

“Keep in mind that the vast majority of computer crime and hacking incidents are usually traced to security and other vulnerabilities associated with the people using a computer,” he noted. “It’s a matter of HR training so employees will avoid clicking on unknown links and engaging other risky online behavior.”

He said some regulated industries, such as medical facilities that are governed by HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, have been “ahead of the curve when it comes to training, controls and best practices, but now they’re trickling down to other industries.”

Chwastyk also had advice for companies that tie their IT systems to vendors’ setups. “We work on these kinds of issues and address them with contractual terms,” he said. “You want terms in the agreement with vendors to define issues like the level of performance to be delivered, and what kinds of remedies will be available if they fail to meet those standards.”

Businesses may also wish to consider cybersecurity and business interruption insurance policies, he added.

“Depending on the circumstances of an incident, there may also be reporting requirements,” he noted. “Generally, a simple outage won’t trigger them, but all 50 states have notification requirements for a ransomware or other security breach that exposes personally identifiable information. If your company does business internationally, you may have to consider European Union and other reporting requirements.”

Cost matters, too

Companies need to ask themselves “what’s it worth to me to keep my operations up and running?” said Charles Getty, director of information security at York-based Business Information Group. “But it’s not unusual for small- and medium-sized businesses to balk at doing that. They often don’t seriously consider it until they get hit.”

Besides doing a cost-benefit analysis, there are other considerations, he added. “In general, companies can use ‘cluster technology’ [a set of connected computers that effectively work as a single system] as a kind of ‘fail-safe system,’ so if one goes down, others will take over the load,” Getty noted. “But the challenge there is that if one gets compromised, say by ransomware, the threat can quickly spread. One solution to that is to have a separate, offline backup too, but that can take time.”

The best approach, he said, is to “assess your risks — from cyber threats to natural disasters — and consider the impact on your business operations. Then consider the possible solutions and how they fit with your budget.”

Brandon Keath (Photo: Submitted) –

One of the quandries facing businesses is the dichotomy between security and productivty, pointed out Brandon S. Keath, cybersecurity practice lead at Mechanicsburg-based Appalachia Technologies LLC.

“Technology can be considered as a door that helps companies get their goods and services to market easier and faster,” said Keath, who also runs PAHackers, an “ethical hackers” organization. “Security is the lock that guards things. But when you put a lock on a door, it’s tougher to get through it to make your delivery.”

Once a business comes to terms with that, Keath said it should “invest in redundancies and periodically test” the systems. But many companies don’t have a backup plan, or its limited, or they’ve never tested it, he added.

He also noted that high turnover among technology professionals compounds the problem.

“Something happens and no one knows exactly how the system works, because the person who designed it is no longer there,” Keath said. “This happens in small companies and multibillion-dollar ones. Businesses need to properly document any changes or additions to the IT system.” <

The best defense

A hardware or software vulnerability in a computer system is, in reality, a mistake made by its designer, according to Ronald C. Jones, a cyber security instructor at Harrisburg University.

“Each company that designs computer system has a cost-tradeoff point where more vulnerability testing decreases the profitability of the computer system,” he noted, highlighting some best practices that can help to reduce the number of mistakes in a system.

“Use software fuzzing,” he suggested, referring to running a program with a wide variety of “junk” input that can highlight abnormal or other unexpected results.

Another is to utilize “common criteria,” which refers to products that can be evaluated by competent and independent licensed laboratories that can determine particular security properties.

As an additional precaution, added Jones, companies may consider “third-party review by someone who was not involved in designing the computer system.”

In Target’s case, the cash registers “suffered from a systems design flaw, a monolithic design which created a single point of failure,” he said. “Target was not clear but inferred it was some type of computer system design. It is cheap to build and operate a monolithic system, that is, until it fails. The best-practice approach is to have redundant systems and have half of the company operated on one side. Another approach would be to operate on one system on even number months and the other on odd number months.”

There can be a big tradeoff between productivity and vulnerability when it comes to designing computer systems, according to Andrew Hacker, Harrisburg University’s cyber security expert in residence, and CEO-founder of Thought, a blockchain technology company. “New and improved technology can bring significant productivity enhancements, but it can also bring cyber security and other risks.”

The problems are not limited to Target or other retail chains, he added. Hacker pointed to mobile phones as an example, noting that “cybersecurity was not considered a problem when they were introduced.” But now, with smartphones holding banking and other sensitive information, “more threats have emerged.”

His suggestion: “Bring in internal or external cybersecurity partners as early as possible.”

Hacker, who previously worked as the deputy to the state of Pennsylvania’s chief information security officer, said technology security personnel “were at the table early on as each department rolled out new projects. It may cost a bit more, but this approach provides more security.”

To minimize the chances of a systemwide failure, Hacker said, companies should consider installing redundant and hardened, or secure, systems.

“You do have to consider the cost, but also consider the cost of downtime,” he noted. “Also, when your systems interact with an outside provider, take the time to test their compatibility. In the beginning, most systems were closed, but now it’s common for external vendors to be hooked into a company’s system, so there’s a greater need to review the systems, maintain their continuity and consider backup plans.”

HU program engages local contractors

Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, along with several partners, is holding educational sessions for small businesses interested in work at the school’s proposed 17-story tower, seen here, which will take about two years to build. (Rendering: Submitted)

Harrisburg University of Science and Technology will break ground this summer on a 17-story, $135 million tower in the capital city, its largest project to date.

University President Eric Darr is acutely aware of how the proposed tower will reshape downtown Harrisburg and set the tone for the university’s next growth spurt.

But Darr also is aware of the amount of work it will take to get there – about two years of construction.

And that will involve lots of contractors specializing in everything from steel framing and mechanical systems to drywall and painting.

That’s why the university launched Contractor U, a four-week educational series designed to give small and diverse businesses a chance to learn from larger construction firms on things like estimating and contract bidding, project management and understanding labor requirements.

About 20 people participated in the program, which began in late May and is wrapping up this week. Darr said it will be offered again in the fall and maybe again in the winter.

Darr said the program was not in direct response to the flap last winter over the federal courthouse project in Midtown Harrisburg, during which protestors argued that local companies were not given a fair shot to compete for construction work.

“From the beginning of the project, we planned to include women- and minority-owned businesses,” he said. “Contractor U is part of that whole plan.”

Of course, going through Contractor U doesn’t mean local contractors are guaranteed to get work, which is often based on low bid. But contractors who take part could build relationships with general contractors, said Diane Tokarsky, chair of the construction and procurement law group at Harrisburg-based McNees Wallace & Nurick.

Tokarsky represents the university and is one of the partners in Contractor U, along with contractors Whiting-Turner and Reynolds, who will be doing community outreach to interested subcontractors ahead of bid submissions later this summer. Both companies will be working on the proposed tower.

Planned for a site at Chestnut and South Third streets, the building will offer educational spaces for at least 1,000 new students in areas like health sciences, advanced manufacturing and interactive media programs, as well as space for a hotel and restaurant.

“This project is a giant project,” Darr said. “But we just did a $2.5 million student union. Before that, it was esports. The university continues to do construction projects and we want to utilize, as much as we can, the workforce that is here in Harrisburg.”

Darr and Tokarsky said they believe the program will not only benefit Harrisburg University projects, but also other projects in the city. Part of the plan is to help the city strengthen its database of local contractors.

Darr said he wants Contractor U to be a seasonal program that can involve different regional general contractors and attract new participants over time.

“Even if we can change two to four lives and they form a business, that is a great outcome,” Darr said.

Sonja McCann, who started a small property restoration, snow removal and landscaping business last year, took advantage of Contractor U. She hoped to learn more about the contracting process and to spread the word about her company, S&A Solutions LLC.

“It’s hard when you’re little to get your name out there,” she said. “Big businesses have more money and it’s easier for them. They have a whole department to bid on projects. I have to do everything.”

McCann has been teaching in the Harrisburg School District for the past 22 years. She said she started her business as a side gig. But she hopes the business can create jobs for Harrisburg graduates and inspire other minority-owned businesses in the city.

“There are not many small businesses bidding on work. I’m trying to spread the word,” she said.

Harrisburg startup seeks to transform data

In a pile of data, 10 may look like just another number.

But when that 10 is plugged into a Harrisburg startup’s new tech platform – essentially a bunch of computers that talk to each other – it becomes a number with a purpose.

Andrew Hacker, founder of Thought
Andrew Hacker, founder of Thought (Photo: Submitted)

The startup is Thought, founded and led by Andrew Hacker, a faculty member at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.

He and his team are in the midst of creating a platform that can take bits of computer data, like numbers, and provide them with the context, or set of rules and logic. This added context, called an application, creates a hybrid of both data and application.

By eliminating the need for an outside application and providing the application earlier in the life of the data, Thought hopes to transform the efficiency of data across industries and save costs in a world where more and more terabytes of data are piling up every day, requiring what’s known as big data analytics to understand it all.

“Since every little piece of our data has some application piece to it, we can model anything,” Hacker said. “We can model any kind of big data analytics, formula or even an artificial intelligence algorithm.”

For example, a person’s oxygen level is just a number until an application provides a set of rules to decide whether the number is low enough to indicate a person is having trouble breathing and requires assistance. The application could also help provide some background as to why a person may be having trouble breathing, as well as the quality of the data generated.

Hacker has been refining the concept since early 2012, when he was working as Pennsylvania’s deputy chief information security officer. He came to Harrisburg University in 2015 and took part in the university’s accelerator program after hearing positive feedback from university leadership, including President Eric Darr.

In addition to honing the idea, he has been striving to ensure it stays relevant.

“Technology in the external world changes very quickly, so even though the core of the idea was always the same throughout, we evolved as time went on,” he said.

Hacker is now the cybersecurity expert in residence at Harrisburg University. At Thought, he works with a team of six other professionals with computer science and engineering backgrounds on the Harrisburg University campus, as well as a varying number of Harrisburg University interns. Hacker has an electrical engineering background.

With the exception of some funding from Harrisburg University, Hacker has largely funded the operation on his own.

Thought’s technology is between the alpha and beta stage, meaning its components are in place but not tested to a level of confidence where it is ready to hit the market and handle the volume of data generated by a large enterprise. Mid-2020 is the target for full release.

Hacker said Thought’s main market will be companies that produce or consume lots of data in fields like health care, supply chain, logistics and transportation.

Hacker also envisions the platform helping to spur the growth of smart cities in Pennsylvania with data from incompatible systems, like energy, health care, water supply or transportation, working together. Hacker defined Pennsylvania’s current data-sharing procedure as “cumbersome,” one involving paper contracts and lots of hoops. Rather than using paper, Hacker said the contractual information will sit inside each piece of data.

Prioritizing security

Another feature of Thought’s platform is its security. It will assign ownership rights to the generators of data and essentially block others from using it, or stealing it, for their own gain without consent.

“If we can protect all that information and also mark it, secure it and then maybe put a little tag in there that says this belongs to this person, but (also) have a little bit of application code in there, we can actually put rules in there that say this data belongs to this person; it’s for this purpose; you can’t do anything else with it,” Hacker said.

If data is stolen, the owner could be notified, and then the data would able to self-destruct.

Hacker hopes the platform’s users will be able to decide if they want to monetize and sell their personal data with the help of its blockchain structure.

Harrisburg University hires director for new center designed to support startups

Jay Jayamohan has been hired as executive director of the new Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Harrisburg University. (Photo: Submitted) –

Hoping to give students, faculty and regional entrepreneurs another outlet to develop business startups, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology is starting a Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship.

The university is still working out details for the center, including a location, but it has named a founding executive director to lead it.

Harrisburg University has hired Jay Jayamohan, an adjunct professor of strategy at the George Mason University School of Business, to lead the new center. The university’s stated goal for the center is to have a greater social and commercial impact by supporting business innovations.

President Eric Darr said he wants the center to support the broader business community in Central Pennsylvania, not just technology startups.

“Given our tech focus, that is a natural focus for us,” he said. “I would say wherever it takes us. I’m not excluding anything.”

He also said he sees the center as complementary to other startup-support ventures in Harrisburg, including Catamaran, an early-stage accelerator that helps people turn ideas into tangible businesses.

As Harrisburg has become home to more tech-focused firms in recent years, including some that occupy space near the university, Darr has floated the idea of partnering or creating a university hub for startups.

Darr said hiring Jayamohan is the first step in the process. Jayamohan is a mechanical engineer with more than 20 years of experience developing startup companies and tech products.

“Everyone has ideas, but the challenge is to find mentors who have been there before to guide you through best practices and help you mine the ecosystem to start and grow successful companies,” Jayamohan said in a statement. “The center will be that for the HU community.”

He said he hopes the center will create an economic engine for Harrisburg and surrounding areas by attracting innovators and entrepreneurs.

Harrisburg University wins esports national championship

Harrisburg University won the ESPN Overwatch national championship on Sunday. (Photo: Submitted)

Harrisburg has the top collegiate Overwatch team in the country.

Harrisburg University’s Overwatch team won the national championship on Sunday at the first-ever ESPN Collegiate Esports Championships in Texas, defeating the University of Utah in the finals. Overwatch is a team-based multiplayer video game.

Hundreds of schools from across North America competed in qualifying events hosted by Tespa and Collegiate StarLeague to secure spots in the collegiate championship. Five gaming titles were on the line at the championships.

Harrisburg University, whose team is known as the Storm, was one of eight teams in the Overwatch event. Harrisburg University was the only school from Pennsylvania.

The national championship win closed out the Storm’s inaugural season in which the Overwatch team went 33-0. Harrisburg University also has esports teams that compete in League of Legends, a multiplayer battle-arena video game, and Hearthstone, a video game involving collectible digital cards.