Butterflies the Winners from CMU-A Internships Program

Posted 27th November 2018

A serendipitous encounter has led to the creation of a sophisticated new website by Carnegie Melon University student Fan Feng for Butterfly Conservation South Australia Inc (BCSA).

The website, the principal resource for scientists and the general public, is a repository of over 1,500 images and 20 years of research into butterflies by renowned Adelaide Lepidopterist, Roger Grund.

The problem was that the original website had been created in 1999 in Microsoft Front Page 98 – a system no longer available and not compatible with current internet browsers.

Without intervention, the website and content would have eventually been inaccessible and a ‘lifetimes’ work could have been lost forever.

Butterfly Conservation SA (BCSA) volunteer and retired South Australian Museum Honorary Associate Jan Forest OAM knew she need to move fast but she had no idea how as a solution would cost thousands of dollars. Money the BCSA didn’t have.

A chance encounter led her to Carnegie Mellon University.

“I was attending a short course on Word Press and was sharing my problem with a fellow student who suggested I talk to the team at Carnegie Mellon University with a view to taking on an intern”, said Jan.

“It was pure serendipity! I raced home, made a phone call to the University and set up a meeting the next day. The rest is history”, said Jan.

Fan Feng, a Master of Science in Information Technology student at CMU-A joined the Butterfly Conservation team under the banner of the South Australian Museum in August 2018 to undertake her internship.

Her brief was to re-build the website and ‘save’ Roger’s work. In particular she:

  • Consulted with key stakeholders to design and develop a new website
  • Developed a system to identify, troubleshoot and report system bugs
  • Tested fixes
  • Developed a ‘how to’ manual to assist volunteers to add to, and maintain the site
  • Conducted an information session to volunteers who have little experience in website maintenance.

Over the next ten weeks Fan worked with Jan Forrest and Michael Moore (Chairman of Butterfly Conservation and a volunteer taxonomist at the SA Museum) on the website. She worked with over 270 html files (pages) and 1569 images, maps and diagrams, mostly life history images of South Australian butterflies and their habitat.

“Fan has done a superb job for us. And I’m delighted to say the results have far exceeded our expectations”, said Jan.

“It was very concerning that the amazing body of work created by Roger Grund was at risk of being lost.

Jan Forest and Fan Feng with some of SA's well preserved butterfly specimens

Without Fan and the CMU-A internship program BCSA simply wouldn’t have been able to afford to do this project. Its truly amazing and I can’t think about where we’d be without Fan or CMU-A.

“Fan is such a talent. She knew exactly what to do and from day one she got on with the job. Her diligence and commitment are second to none”, she said.

Jan jokes that when doing Fan’s post-internship evaluation there’s nothing that she can say in the ‘areas to improve’ section.

BCSA, founded in 1999, champions the conservation of butterflies (and moths) and their habitat with a view to promote invertebrate biodiversity.

Healthy butterfly populations mean that the food web is maintained and other animals such as birds, reptiles and larger insects can thrive and co-exist.

Fan has done a superb job for us. And I’m delighted to say the results have far exceeded our expectations.

Fan Feng and Jan Forest at the SA Museum

All Masters students at Carnegie Mellon University must compete an internship with industry, the public sector or a not-for-profit organisation.

Internships are designed to enable students to work on solving real world problems equipping them for future careers and giving them valuable hands-on experience to ensure they are work-ready when graduating.

CMU-A graduates in 2017 and 2018 secured jobs with KPMG Australia, PwC Australia, Cochlear, Servian Consulting, Capgemini Australia, Vectra Corporation, TripAdvisor, Santos Limited; Cara Inc, South Australian Department of Land, Water and Planning and department of premier & Cabinet, Return to WorkSA, RAA, SA Power Networks and the Victorian Department of Environment.