Niskayuna grad helps design app to better schedule college classes

Photo provided:
Noah Presler, a Niskayuna graduate who recently developed a scheduling app that is used at colleges and universities across the United States and Canada. 
Thursday, November 11, 2016.Photo provided: Noah Presler, a Niskayuna graduate who recently developed a scheduling app that is used at colleges and universities across the United States and Canada. Thursday, November 11, 2016.

 

BY INDIANA NASH

Gazette Reporter

NISKAYUNA- Transitioning from high school to college is stressful. Students go from having their schedules handed to them by guidance counselors who are keeping them on track to graduate, to creating their own schedules every sixteen weeks, with lesser support from counselors.

Beyond that, the scheduling systems of colleges and universities are often arcane, with low-quality search engines and outdated interfaces.

When Noah Presler left Niskayuna for Johns Hopkins University in 2013, he experienced these sorts of frustrations firsthand.

But he decided to do something about it.

In August of 2015, Presler and a few friends launched the beginning stages of a scheduling app called ‘Semester.ly.’

It’s now being used at Johns Hopkins University, University of Toronto, Queen’s University, George Washington University, Chapman University, Vanderbilt University and the University of Maryland.

The idea for the app arose when Presler was finishing up a summer internship at Google in 2015.

“I was ready for a new project and I was talking to a few other interns who worked at Youtube and went to the University of Toronto. I found that scheduling was a real issue,” Presler said.

Shortly after that conversation, Presler and his new ‘team’ bought the domain name “Semester.ly” and they got started in creating the most user-friendly scheduling app they could.

The app connects students with counselors, with fellow students, with Amazon for textbooks and with student class reviews.

“You identify the courses you want to take – using a high quality search engine- and it automatically optimizes your schedule,” Presler said.

It prioritizes whether or not a student would prefer afternoon classes, three day weekends, or night classes.

Once a schedule is created, students can share it with fellow students via Facebook.

Then, there is a direct link to Amazon’s textbook shop, tips for the class and reviews for it.

Since the very first version of the app came out, over 500,000 schedules have been created with it, with 26,000 users.

This year, before the Johns Hopkins class of 2020 even stepped on campus, 65% of students had already used the app to create their schedule and share it on Facebook.

In 2015, Presler’s team won $10,000 from the Ralph O.Connor Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Fund, a Johns Hopkins venture program. Much of the funds have been spent on the team’s brand ambassador program, which is implemented at each university.

“A lot of it is marketing costs. But soon it will be going towards our legal budget, as we start to look at licensing agreements,” Presler said.

The team is a mix of students from Johns Hopkins and the University of Toronto: Max Yeo, Eric Calder, Michael Miller, Neha Onteeru, Rohan Das and Felix Zhu.

Some, like Onteeru, are focused on the marketing side of the app. Others are in charge of adding features and monitoring the app to make sure that it’s running smoothly.

Now that Presler is a senior, set to graduate in May of 2017, he’s thinking more about the future of the app.

“I’ll be going to work at Google as a product manager in August of next year,” Presler said.

Many of the other team members also have jobs lined up with tech companies like Pandora or Microsoft.

Presler said that work on the app will still continue even after graduation and he is working with the team to figure out how it will get done.

As passionate as Presler is about Semester.ly and what he’s been able to accomplish through it, the project wasn’t his first successful one.

“I started a business in high school where I was trying to help student athletes put together performance videos and clips to show potential college teams,” Presler said. During that time, he also helped to design websites for a few Schenectady businesses.

“For me, entrepreneurship and business are just a means to an end. . . I’m really hoping to take the opportunities that are in front of me and impact as many people as I can,” Presler said.

His advice to Niskayuna high school students on the verge of graduation?

“When you go to college and you’re a computer science major or a business major, you’re going to take all the core classes and most students will do well. You have to build something, have a product that  you can take to job interviews and be proud of. People often say that they just can’t come up with the ideas for a project. But you have to surround yourself with people who have ideas. People who are ambitious and who will drive you forward. Most people say they don’t have good ideas. But they’re really just not excited about them. Just start building on a project idea because you never know,” Presler said.