Cayle Bywater had a simple desire to help people, says her friend and classmate Beth Daniell, who frequently carpooled with Bywater to take evening courses at UGA's Gwinnett campus in the Master of Internet Technology program.
Bywater's vision dovetailed nicely with a team project assignment for her MIT class. As a volunteer at Nuçi's Space, a unique musicians' resource and support center in Athens, she was well aware that the facility's rehearsal room rental database was barely keeping up with the demands local musicians and bands were putting on it, and she urged her classmates to consider the development of a new Internet-based solution for their end-of-course project.
"In the last two semesters of the five-semester program, students do what is basically a project course, and we solicit project sponsors in the spring before those two semesters," says Craig Piercy, an MIS lecturer who directs the Terry College's MIT program. "The sponsors we work with range from big corporations to small businesses to government agencies and nonprofits."
Tragically, Bywater died before she could see her pet project get off the ground. After she was reported missing in late December 2007, Bywater's body was recovered on Jan. 11, 2008, from the pond at an Athens park. The case was later ruled an accidental drowning. Her classmates, in the meantime, could have moved on to another project. Instead, her fellow team members — Daniell, Wilson Darmajaya, Lars Osmerg, Hallie Pritchett and Marline Santiago-Cook — became resolute in seeing Bywater's dream project become a reality.
"We looked at this project and talked about it because we try to choose projects that show off what our students can do, which is the main idea behind this," says Piercy. "So we make sure it's a good fit and a good sponsor, and I wanted to tweak it a little to make sure it worked because of our association with Cayle."
In late April, after more than a year of work, students, faculty and supporters gathered at Nuçi's Space to commemorate the launch of "The Cayle Project," a new database that not only keeps track of the nonprofit's rental space but also helps staffers keep better records of funds coming into the center through refreshment sales and equipment rentals.
"It's a big deal. The way we were doing things worked, but we were using the bare essentials," says Will Kiser (AB '00), volunteer coordinator at Nuçi's Space. "One thing that will be really different is the amount of information we'll be able to get out of it. The efficiency of it will be different — no more mistakes and no more double-booking rehearsal rooms. We've been growing, with more and more bands practicing here, but we were sticking with this very rudimentary system."
Kiser said that there's no way Nuçi's Space could have paid for a custom software system to reconcile the business conducted at the center, which is located just a few blocks from downtown Athens.
"This system allows us to get back to doing what we do best, which is to build relationships with musicians," he says. "We could have never afforded something like this because we needed to have something developed especially for us because there's nothing equivalent to Nuçi's Space out there. So the money we raise can continue to go to helping musicians, rather than paying for an expensive database project."
After a short musical set from singer-songwriter Leralynn Buettner and guitarist Dan Nettles, team members offered a demonstration of "The Cayle Project," which has already been put to use at Nuçi's Space. Bywater's classmates admitted to having mixed emotions about the project's completion.
"It makes it more final, but it also makes us feel good to know that there's a little piece of Cayle in this project," says Daniell. "Before she died, she kept saying that she wanted to do something and she wanted to help people. We've been able to do that for her. I hope this will make a big difference to Nuçi's Space."
"Everyone had a project, but this one is special because of the circumstances," adds Pritchett, who works as a map and federal regional depository librarian on the UGA campus. "Cayle was only 30 when she died, and it was obviously very unexpected. It's just a nice addition to all the hard work we've done to know that we've done something in her memory. So this will continue on. That's very satisfying."
Because several of the MIT students live and work in the Atlanta area, they often rode together to Athens on Sundays to work with Kiser and Nuçi's Space executive director Bob Sleppy (who is a Terry MBA student in Gwinnett) on the project.
"Every member of the group was an amazing person," says Kiser. "The amount of work that was put in was unbelievable. Some of that speaks to the way the project came about, with Cayle's original idea.
"We had a really nice connection (with the students)" Kiser adds. "They saw this project as being something really different from what their classmates were doing, and we implemented it immediately. The students got a lot out of it, and we got even more out of it."