ROLLA, Mo. - Students from Missouri University of Science and Technology are working to help bring jobs to impoverished rural Kenyans. And they need help here to make it happen there.
The students are involved in a research project that has supplied laptop computers and an internet connection to villagers in southwest Kenya. The villagers perform "microtasks" on the computer that only a human can do - like distinguishing images, handwriting and other ambiguous data.
"We're giving them a flexible and creative source of income," says Montana Puckett, a senior in civil engineering from Linn Creek, Mo. "The money earned might not seem like much here, but in Kenya it's a lot. We're hoping this could translate into income for rural communities here as well."
The Missouri S&T students are developing a website, mstworks.org, where villagers will be able to perform the work. The microtasks are now most commonly done through Amazon Mechanical Turk, an internet marketplace that focuses on these types of small tasks that require human intelligence.
Puckett and Lee Voth-Gaeddert of Hesston, Kan., also a senior in civil engineering, are in charge of marketing the project.
"We're trying to get the word out so we can move the project forward," says Voth-Gaeddert. "We need volunteers to help us make the system more user-friendly - to structure the tasks to make them easier to understand. We need people with innovative ideas and a passion for helping the less fortunate."
Puckett says a future project might be in the digitalization of health care records and forms. "We could scan forms here, then send them where Kenyans or rural Americans would convert them into a digital format, to make them standardized," he says.
The students are working with Dr. Daniel Oerther, the John A. and Susan Mathes Chair of Environmental Engineering at Missouri S&T, Andy Schriner of the University of Cincinnati, and Missouri EDGE, creators of the Pula Cloud Project that supplied the laptops to the village. David Hackney, a senior in civil engineering, worked in Kenya last summer, helping set up a base of operations.