Alumnus releases app, Columbia to implement new mobile media major

By Lisa Schulz

Recall the evolution of technology during the past year. Now imagine the technological innovations of the last two decades. Now consider the software learned and used in college being completely phased out 17 years after graduation.

Mark Dascoli, a 1999 Columbia graduate, did technical work during his time at the college by maintaining The Chronicle’s website in 1996. He then took a position as a quality assurance engineer at Apple, where he worked on digital domains for iRobot and pursued digital artistry

and productions.

Now he’s the co-creator of a smartphone application, which is an increasingly popular object of study in Columbia’s Interactive Arts and Media Department.

“I got to experience a lot of different things [at Columbia],” Dascoli said. “It was just that frame of mind that things are changing, but roll with the punches. Learn craft, just try things and always learn new things.”

Stashpix, the app Dascoli created with Northwestern University alumnus Gavin Stokes, has similarities to the photo-sharing features of Facebook but it doesn’t require registration. Dascoli said Stashpix allows anonymous users to store and share photos instantly and publicly. Photos are tagged to the location where they were taken using GPS and are only viewable within a certain radius of that spot. The app currently reaches audiences in locations across the globe, he said.

With his early lessons in new media and the Internet, Dascoli, who began as a film & video major, “did some finagling” to achieve a multidisciplinary education without registering for prerequisite courses.

He said his own curriculum was much easier to create because of the limited amount of new technology available at the time.

After applying in-class techniques to the working world, Dascoli eventually found that the software he was taught no longer existed in the ever-growing technological industry.

He said his professors were aware of the obvious changes and advised him to remain open-minded and avoid becoming too focused on learning specific software.

Columbia now teaches the building blocks of programming and coding instead of the details of specific software, said Mindy Faber, academic manager in the IAM Department.

“One of the challenges of our department is that we live in a world of accelerated

change,” Faber said. “New technologies are constantly being developed. We have to be nimble, adaptive and responsive to how we’re incorporating the teaching of those new technologies into our curriculum.”

Starting in fall 2012, a new bachelor of arts degree in mobile media programming will be added to the IAM department, along with a bachelor of science and bachelor of arts degrees in game programming. The new majors were announced by Pan Papacosta, professor in the Math and Science Department and a member of the Faculty Senate’s Academic Affairs Committee, as reported by The Chronicle on March 19. He said the majors address the basic needs of students while making them more marketable.

Faber said the department is excited to focus on app creation and game implementation in the classroom during the next decade.

New for summer 2012 is Introduction to iOS, a one credit-hour course on programming code and designing apps for Apple products.

Courses like this are often piloted, developed and then become permanent, Faber said.

Although the technology industry is “almost impossible” to keep up with in college, students often use self-motivation to keep their skills current, she said.

“I think our students do a really good job,” Faber said. “They’re naturally drawn to a geek culture and they’re early adopters by nature, so you don’t have to encourage them. It kind of goes with the territory.”