South Hills Information Technology Students Develop Automated Call System For Local Church | South Hills School of Business & Technology
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South Hills Information Technology Students Develop Automated Call System For Local Church

Students writing on chalk board

From left to right: Dylan Walters, Derrek Payne, Cody Virgillo, and Rick Grissinger work together on an automated phone messaging system project.

South Hills Community News Release

ALTOONA — When a local church needed an automated way to communicate with its members, South Hills School of Business & Technology Information Technology (IT) students helped to find a solution.

Rick Grissinger, an IT student at the South Hills Altoona Campus, attends Immanuel Bible Church in Three Springs, PA where a “human phone chain” is the main form of communicating messages to all members. For instance, when inclement weather forces a cancellation of a service or church event, they get the word out to the members using a calling tree or phone list. The first person on the list calls the next person on the list to communicate the message and that person calls the next person on the list and so on, until everyone receives the cancellation message.

The IT students learned about VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) software which provides phone service over the Internet in their classes at South Hills. Rick had an idea that this could be used to automate the cancellation messages for his church. Along with fellow students Cody Virgillo, Dylan Walters, and Derrek Payne, a working prototype was built, tested, and deployed in the cloud and demonstrated to church leaders.

IT Instructor, Guido Santella, supported the team by setting up a cloud server for the software, testing the system to ensure that it worked properly, and writing scripts that helped to coordinate the automated calls.

The project has been “live” since December and was tested to announce a weather-related cancellation. The system worked perfectly and alerted and left messages for more than 100 people within 15 minutes. The church is now considering implementing the student team’s solution and installing a permanent automated call system.

The student team:

  • Conducted research to determine which software and equipment were needed for the project
  • Communicated with the church throughout the project
  • Created the interactive phone prompts from scratch
  • Recorded all of the audio for the system
  • Purchased a phone number for the service
  • Reviewed the security of this system
  • Organized all of the phone numbers
  • Tested the system

Resources used:

  • Asterisk VoIP Software – open source telephone PBX/private branch exchange software
  • Flowroute® API/application programming interface for connection to the public phone system
  • Ubuntu Server on a DigitalOcean® Cloud Droplet (i.e. cloud server) that cost $5/month
  • Various BASH/Bourne-Again SHell scripts for automation

Skills learned through the project include:

  • Securing the SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) provider so that people cannot hijack it to make long-distance calls
  • Working with a large configuration for Asterisk
  • Creating our own phone number that would be called by any phone to initiate an alert message
  • Setting Caller ID in the system so it would properly display the church phone number properly on message recipient’s phones



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Kari Lynn Schlegel

March 4, 1992—December 15, 2016

Kari Schlegel was born in March 1992 and graduated from South Hills in September 2012.

The Kari Lynn Schlegel Memorial Gallery is named in memory of Kari Schlegel, a lifelong Bellefonte resident and 2012 graduate of the Graphic Arts program at South Hills.

Kari was often the exclamation point in any story about the Class of 2012. Her effervescent good mood, enthusiasm, and seemingly endless supply of optimism and positive spirit was infusive, lighting up the classroom.

Kari (right) is shown with her beloved sister, Mindy.

Her classmates still laugh at the memory of Kari wearing her bunny slippers on the Graphic Arts field trip to New York City. Groan-worthy puns and jokes? Kari had a volume of them. She delighted in sharing stories and photos of her four beloved cats as well as trivia and tales of Harry Potter and Disney World. She was a rare combination of innocence, maturity, trust, and hope. She was filled with a joy of life and an unconditional love for her friends, her family, her pets… and people she just met. That was Kari Schlegel.

Kari dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow for the South Hills “BooFest” Halloween party in 2012.

She loved her school, even coming back to audit several GA classes after graduating. Kari also particularly enjoyed returning to South Hills every summer to perform as part of the Music Picnic Series with the Bellefonte Community Band.

Kari died December 15, 2016, in a tragic automobile accident. It’s a loss everyone who knew her still feels. In the end, Kari truly lived her life with passion and joy, treating others as she wanted to be treated: with love, compassion, and respect.