Herky crowd surfing at Dance Marathon
Tuesday, April 12, 2016 - 9:02am

Story by Molly Hovden, Information Technology Services

Photo by Tim Schoon, Office of Strategic Communication

The University of Iowa Dance Marathon set another fundraising record this spring, raising over $2.4 million for pediatric cancer research at the UI Children’s Hospital.

Contributing to the 24-hour dance-a-thon’s success was a trifecta of custom-designed applications developed to ensure a smooth and convenient experience for the dancers, donors, and families.

A team of application developers and database administrators in Information Technology Services (ITS) worked with Dance Marathon (DM) to create a fundraising database, a family relations database, and a mobile app that helps dancers track donations and highlights dance day details. Dance Marathon recently recognized ITS' support with a commemorative plaque.

Plaque in recognition of ITS' contributions to DM16

ITS provides the campus with application and Web development services on a for-hire basis, allowing units to utilize the skills and expertise of developers for specific projects as needed.

Demand for the service has grown rapidly in the past five years. The team has built an array of specialized apps, including one to manage open records requests, personalized acceptance videos for newly admitted students, and a Sounds of Speech app to access animated libraries of phonetic sounds.

ITS began working with Dance Marathon nine years ago, starting with the construction of an online fundraising system that helped collect over $2 million through 28,825 donations this year.

“They are helping us make a difference to so many of our DM families affected by cancer, and we can see the passion in each of the developers,” says Daniel Kolb, DM 22 executive director. “The service ITS has provided for DM is amazing.”

Two years ago ITS launched a mobile app just for DM’s Big Event. In addition to helping dancers tally donations, the highly rated UI Dance Marathon app provides maps and a schedule so they don’t miss out on the speakers and acts during the 24 hours. The month of DM—with a peak during the Big Event—the app was used nearly 3,500 times, according to ITS’ Brandon Neil, who led the mobile project.

This year the Family Relations Database—which contains information on 800 Dance Marathon families for mailings, events, and updates—was upgraded so families can log in to update their own information and interests. Prior to this tool, DM relied on a laborious manual process using spreadsheets. In the future families will be able to RSVP for events through the site, too.

“We support Dance Marathon by helping them manage their data and giving them tools to stay organized,” says ITS application developer Kerri Mead. “We talk to them about processes that are time-consuming or disorganized and try to find solutions. They are a bright and energetic group to work with, and we all really enjoy this project. I am impressed at what they accomplish every year.”

Along with Mead and Neil, ITS staff involved with the projects were: developers Vanessa Weisskopf and Yan Li, server support staff Don D’Hooge and Cody Johnson, and database administrator Dan Good, who has a personal connection to Dance Marathon. Good’s association with Dance Marathon began over 13 years ago when his oldest daughter, now 16, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.

“The support they give to the families that may have to spend weeks in the hospital with a sick child, as well as the effort the students put into this, is absolutely phenomenal,” Good says. “As the database administrator it is a great pleasure to be involved with Dance Marathon.”