Senior Builds HPU’s Amazon Alexa ‘Skill’

A computer science major’s work allows people to connect with HPU

through the popular Amazon Echo Device.

HIGH POINT, N.C., April 28, 2017 – Parker Ramsey never imagined that the Amazon Echo sitting next to his bed at High Point University would turn into an impactful research project.

But after several weeks of coding, trouble shooting, putting classroom concepts into action and utilizing Amazon Web Services, it’s become just that.

Parker Ramsey

Ramsey adapted HPU’s Daily Motivation email that features President Nido Qubein with video life lessons and inspirational quotes into an Amazon Alexa “Skill.” The technology allows Echo users to play HPU’s Daily Motivation and retrieve facts about the university, potentially connecting his soon-to-be alma mater with people around the world.

HPU’s Amazon Alexa Skill debuts today, with every Monday’s quote read by Dr. Nido Qubein, HPU president, and quotes read by HPU students, alumni, faculty and staff throughout the rest of the week.

Ramsey, a senior from Charlotte who will graduate on May 6 with degrees in computer science and philosophy, completed the project as part of his semester-long research focused on machine learning.

He was searching for a way to bring that research to life when Roger Shore, associate professor of computer science, brought the Alexa idea to him.

“He asked me if I would spearhead the creation of an Amazon Alexa Skill, and I thought, ‘Why not?’” Ramsey says. “I love working in Amazon’s environment, and I had been wanting to turn my computer science research into something actionable here at HPU.”

Shore and Ramsey knew that designing a user-friendly app to represent the university in millions of homes would be a major undertaking. But much of the academic curriculum at HPU is experiential and project-based, preparing students to create value in the marketplace.

“I want students to become an expert in an area that’s interesting to them where they can apply the core concepts we teach,” says Shore. “Parker takes what we do in the classroom and applies it in his own way. I don’t want students to be afraid or ask me what I want them to do. I want them to figure out what they want to do with it and know how to take something and apply it in a way that solves problems.”

Ramsey says the challenges of the projected stretched and grew his skills. He began writing the Skill in JavaScript but eventually scrapped that code and rewrote it in Python. The university had previously funded him and his peers to attend the Amazon Web Services conference in Atlanta in spring 2016, giving him further insight to conquer the challenge. He has also served as technology chair for the Student Government Association and worked alongside Steve Wozniak, Apple Co-Founder and HPU’s Innovator in Residence.

“Creating this Skill was a very interesting thing to learn, but it really takes an environment like HPU to inspire you to apply it and see what you can do affect other people and improve the lives of other people and yourself.”

In a few weeks, Ramsey will launch his career with Duke Energy in Charlotte as an IT associate. Creating the Skill has been rewarding, but so too has starting a project that his peers can continue to grow as HPU’s Daily Motivation subscribers and the device’s popularity also grow.

“The spirit of comradery we have in our department and throughout HPU has had a big impact on me,” he says. “I try to pass it down and am happy to share it. We have a community environment inside our labs, and we see it as a big family.”


How to download the High Point University Skill on Amazon Echo and Echo Dot:

— Go here and select “enable.”

— Or, tell the device: Alexa, enable the High Point University skill.

How to use the High Point University Skill on Amazon Echo and Echo Dot:

You can use the HPU Skill by saying:

— Alexa, Open High Point University skill

— Alexa, ask High Point University for Daily Motivation

— Alexa, ask High Point University for a fact.


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