Many UCF students were sleeping at 4:30 a.m. on Jan. 2, but 30 of them piled onto a bus for a nine-hour drive to Biloxi, Miss. to change lives and test new technology.

The 30 students are members of Habitat for Humanity at UCF and they will be in Biloxi till Jan. 9 building houses for those in need as a part of Habitat for Humanity International’s Collegiate Challenge, an alternative break program offered across the country.

They will also be the first group to test a smart phone application being developed by the Mixed Emerging Technology Integration Lab at UCF’s Institute for Simulation and Training.

“This will be our fifth trip out of state as the UCF Habitat for Humanity chapter,” said sophomore environmental engineering major and the chapter’s incoming president Kaitlyn Jeanis. “[In 2009] I learned everything from how to shingle a roof to how to put drywall up. It’s an incredible experience.”

Making this experience that much more incredible is the Android application being developed by METIL.

The application, dubbed Allogy, will allow students to work on their online courses and pursue other educational interests via smart phone.

The goal in testing the application on this trip is to see what feedback its first users provide and to use their time on the bus trip to Biloxi to take care of things that would usually have to wait until their arrival.

“We’re going to have people listen to a lecture, watch a video on Habitat — a safety speech — and then they have a quiz afterward to take that’s only a few questions long,” said senior molecular biology and microbiology major Galal Elsayed. “Instead of having to deal with the safety speech being said on site or taking up time that we could be using to build houses, this new Android application is going to give people the opportunity to learn everything they need to learn on the bus ride there.”

There will be four smart phones, obtained specially for conducting research on the application during this trip, for the 30 students to use.

“This new application we hope will revolutionize the way not only people learn in the United States, but the way people learn in developing countries, as well,” said Elsayed, who will be serving as the research coordinator for the application during the trip.

Elsayed, who was one of the co-founders of the chapter in the fall of 2008, has been on three Collegiate Challenges before this one.

“Collegiate Challenge has constantly been dominated by people that really want to do good things for other communities,” said Elsayed, who lives with four other students who have all been on Collegiate Challenge trips.

Since its founding in the fall of 2008, the chapter has been named UCF’s New Organization of the Year, built houses all across Orlando and participated in Collegiate Challenges in Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana, North Carolina and this year, Mississippi.

Jeanis, whose first Collegiate Challenge was in Lafayette, La., said the experiences students have on these trips usually turn them into very committed club members.

“What was great about the Lafayette trip is we were working next to the people we were actually building the house for,” Jeanis said. “We got to hear their stories and what they went through and how much Habitat has helped them and they were just so appreciative.”

Elsayed also attended the Lafayette trip.

“We had one homeowner who had survived cancer and had lost her husband and lost her house in Katrina and we were building a house for her in Lafayette, La., and she was helping us sand walls,” Elsayed said.

He said that in addition to learning about the people whom he was helping build homes for, he learned new skills he might not have picked up otherwise.

“I got to go down into a crawlspace of the house and I had to winterize it and place installation board into concrete blocks … it was quite the experience because I would never have even considered learning how to winterize a house,” Elsayed said.

Graduate student and treasurer of the chapter Lauren Cantrell, who has been on three other Collegiate Challenges, said she was looking forward to another trip that would allow her to spend time with friends who share her same passions in helping the community.

“Even though each experience is so different, you all leave the trip as best friends,” Cantrell said. “We all have this overwhelming feeling you can’t describe unless you’re there.”

Though waking up early and putting in hours of physical labor is exhausting, Cantrell said there was something that made it worth everything.

“At the end, if you get to meet a homeowner, then you can see what you’re working for and you feel like you’ve really accomplished something.”

Source: Central Florida Future, Up to the challenge, UCF club builds homes on holiday break,  by Katie Kustura, News Editor. Published: Sunday, January 2, 2011, updated: Sunday, January 2, 2011 18:01