College launches first mobile app

Photo Courtesy of Rob Varney

Luke Robles

Last month, on Friday January 31st, Ursinus launched its first ever official phone app, MobileU(rsinus), available for download through the Apple app store and Google Play.

The goal of the app is to create a mass messaging app for the Ursinus community that isn’t mass emails. Through a collaboration between library and information technologies, college communications, and campus safety and emergency management, the college was able to meet this goal.

It was designed as a “one stop shop” for students in need of quick access to campus information such as dining options, schedule and grades, campus activities and news, and athletic schedules, but most notable is its safety and emergency resources.

The most revolutionary of these is the addition of a mobile BlueLight system, which sends campus safety your GPS location to pinpoint you and send an officer over, upon students request.

In addition to this, there’s the inclusion of the “friend walk home,” which connects you and a friend’s phones together so that campus safety can keep an eye on your location as you walk to your designation. If a friend isn’t available to monitor you, campus safety can do so through the virtual walk home.

According to the Director of Campus Safety, John S. Bera, these functionalities are actively being used, especially in the later hours of the evening, and have been met with a lot of “positive views” on both virtual walk features thus far.

However, Bera was quick to remind the community that these new options are not a replacement for the traditional campus safety officer escort, but rather an alternative for those who wish to be safely walked home without troubling an officer. Though as he said, “it’s never a bother, (as) safety is first and foremost.” The ability to report discriminatory acts, send emergency notifications, and enter a live chat with Campus Safety have also been added to the safety and emergencies section of the app.

When asked about the decision to have a mobile BlueLight system instead of a physical one as seen across most campuses, Bera replied, “I have yet to see a standard search radius around the BlueLight activation.”

Because of this, Bera fears that if the search radius were too small and something were to happen to someone outside of the standard search, he’d be unable to live with himself.

“The college had them for a time, they are notoriously not reliable, they were checked on a weekly basis and sometimes one week it would work fine and the next week they were exposed to the elements,” he said. When asked about a situation where one’s phone was to die, Bera admitted, “That’s always the great quantifier… [phone battery life] will continue to be a perpetual problem… it’s a great question, (but) I don’t know that we could quantify an answer or be able to respond to that.”

However, he believes that “knowing that we have this available, the reliability of it is a little bit more guaranteed versus a box that has been snowed on and backed up into like the one that was in the gravel lot.” Bera emphasized the changed outlook of the campus safety department due to the adoption of the mobile app.

“We would previously tell [students] to make sure they have campus safety’s number saved as a favorite in case you ever need us,” he said. Now the conversation has changed to recommend not only this, but to download the app as well for all its functions, especially the safety functions.