By Glenn Billman, news staff
When freshman computer science major Peter Abbondanza noticed the myNEU portal was last redesigned in 2009, he thought it was due for an update. So he designed Modern MyNEU, a Google Chrome extension that overhauled the aesthetic of the portal to enhance students’ digital college experience.
“I think everyone else on campus can agree it’s one of the ugliest websites ever, so I figured in my spare time I’d make an extension everyone could use,” Abbondanzo said. “I originally didn’t even tell anyone about it, I was just working on it. It’s not even fully developed yet. Word got out fast.”
Once installed, the extension rearranges content on the main menu screens within the myNEU portal. The same content is displayed, but the font, placement, colors and icons have been adapted. The final result is a sleeker, more compact website visual, called the user interface (UI). While the plug-in alters the aesthetic of the myNEU portal, it does not alter any functions of the portal.
“It takes all the content that you normally see, and it just basically puts a filter over it,” Abbondanzo said. “It manipulates [the content] and puts it into different places and styles it accordingly.”
However, the current version of Modern MyNEU only applies to the main menu pages and does not alter the appearance of pop-ups, such as the course catalogue. Abbondanzo and Vasowalla are currently working to expand the plug-in to filter all aspects of the site. They anticipate the next version will be released in the next week or two.
“The version that we’re working on now is one step up,” Abbondanzo said. “Right now, the only thing that you see modified are the main sections. But then you go to […] add or drop a class, it’s still the old way it was. We’re re-doing that as well, which is a little more challenging because there’s so many more menus and so many things to change up.”
Carl Marshall, a freshman industrial engineering major, said he was introduced to Modern MyNEU in a group chat about a week ago. Although the first time he used it he ran into a bug that didn’t display the menu tabs, Marshall said he likes the extended version of the site much better than the original.
“I think a lot of people can agree that myNEU is sort of an older looking website,” Marshall said. “I live right next to the [computer science] kids. A lot of their classes have to do with UI user experience, and this is kind of anti-UI, which is why I think it was necessary for someone to go in and do a project like this.”
Marshall is not their only fan: Abbondanzo and Vasowalla only mentioned their project to a few students, but almost 1,700 people have installed it so far, Abbondanzo said.
“We’re not really sure how it got out so fast,” Vasowalla said. “We just told people on our floor, and then they got it. And then we just told people sitting next to us in class and they spread it because they thought it was pretty cool.”
Stephanie Trowbridge, the director of Northeastern’s Academic Technology Services (ATS), also took notice of Modern MyNEU. ATS manages academic software, programs like the myNEU portal and other web-based learning and teaching tools. Abbondanzo said Trowbridge offered him the opportunity to work on a project for the university, which he said he declined in order to pursue his other projects.
Trowbridge did not respond to multiple e-mail and phone requests for a comment.
“I was really psyched because I thought I was actually going to be able to improve the actual portal,” Abbondanzo said. “I guess they were excited to see it, but at the same time I also found out they’re working on their own version, so it’s gonna screw us over eventually.”
Sophomore architecture major Junior Tatis works as a phone support analyst for Northeastern’s Information Technology Services Department (ITSD). While Tatis could not comment on Trowbridge offering Abbondanzo a project, he said Modern MyNEU was brought to the department’s attention by a student employee who uses it.
Tatis also said ITSD is currently searching for a new vendor for the myNEU portal, and while he could not comment on the details of that project, he said Abbondanzo’s design demonstrates what students are looking for in the next version of the portal.
“I definitely think it looks beautiful,” Tatis said. “The kid did a great job on it, but hopefully we get something along the lines of that soon enough.”
Abbondanzo said Northeastern has hired a company to redo the myNEU portal and will release an updated model at the end of the semester. To ensure Modern MyNEU does not become obsolete, Abbondanzo plans to release an update that will temporarily disable all of Modern MyNEU’s functions when the new site model is released. He and Vasowalla will then rebuild the program to work with new site.
“It needs redoing, almost the entire thing from the ground up, but I think we have the infrastructure in place to do it in 24 hours,” Abbondanzo said.
In the meantime, Abbondanzo and Vasowalla have been testing for bugs in their extension. Some issues have popped up, which Abbondanzo attributes to changes in the original myNEU portal.
“It’s been fun,” Abbondanzo said. “Just testing your knowledge – it’s like a quiz. I’ve been working on it, slowly powering through it a day at a time.”
Photo by Sophie Cannon