Humanitarian FOSS Summer 2008 Institute ParticipantsThe H-FOSS project builds free and open source software that benefits the community, whether it be by contributing to international humanitarian FOSS efforts, such as Sahana, or by developing FOSS solutions that benefit local or regional non-profits organizations.

By involving students in this project we are hoping to stimulate interest in the computer science major by “get[ting] involved in the open source movement.” suggested by David Patterson, in his March 2006 President’s letter in the CACM.  As ACM President David Patterson has noted, the open source movement is growing rapidly and has become an important component of the software industry. Yet it has received relatively little attention as an object of study in undergraduate computing curricula. Many schools use open source software in their labs, but few schools teach about open source methodology in their classrooms.

A second motivation for involving students in H-FOSS is to “help our neighbors”. Our goal is to raise the social awareness of students while allowing our institutions to contribute to the larger community. In a manner similar to pro bono work in law, student involvement with H-FOSS projects allows them to employ their skills to help others. As Patterson suggests, perhaps contributing to our communities in this way will help generate more interest in, and counteract misperceptions of, academic computer science as a field of study.

The H-FOSS Project attempts to harness the availability and enthusiasm of the undergraduate computing community and focus it, with financial, technical, and marketing support from the corporate community, on fulfilling the software needs of humanitarian and social service organizations. The project was funded by two consecutive,  two year grants (2007-2011) from the Directorate for Computing and Information Science & Engineering (CISE) of The National Science Foundation (NSF) under its Pathways to Revitalized Undergraduate Computing Education program (CPATH).