ORCA (Open Research Community Accelerator)


Open Research Community Accelerator (ORCA) is a new initiative that aims to translate academic research into open source projects with social impact using a dynamic and passionate group of undergraduate students dedicated to bridging the gap between cutting-edge university research and real-world impact.

We believe student thrive when provide opportunities to solve real problems together, and learn leadership, teamwork and vital job skill through application in real situations. ORCA Pods are made of 4-5 members, each bringing their unique skills and perspectives, the team collaborates closely with professors, researchers, and community experts to identify research with the potential for broader application and transforming these research findings into open projects.

ORCA also offers faculty, graduate students and community organizations with product and development support to enhance the public value of their research and address collective community needs. 


The program provides UVM students, regardless of college or major, with innovative experiential learning opportunities to become the next generation of leaders and simultaneously provides faculty, graduate students and community organizations with product and development support to further the public impact of discoveries created in UVM’s research endeavors and supports solving collective community needs.



Current Pods

ORCA Pod ISM (Fall 2023 - Spring 2024)

The Interactive Management App project will design and build an open source tool for conducting Interpretive Structural Modeling (ISM) research with participants. The Interactive Management App will produce a flow diagram that helps a group of people solve a collective problem. The app will take in a list of factors identified by research participants that affect a specific problem. It will then work with participants to figure out the relationships between factors (things that impact their ability to act). An algorithm will then determine which factors should be addressed first, second, and so on in order for the group to meet their goals. This tool will be used in Thriving in Open Source Communities in Africa.
Sponsor: John Meluso
Project GitHub: https://github.com/VERSO-UVM/interactive-management-app

ORCA Pod VTZA (Spring 2024)

The Vermont Zoning Atlas (VTZA) Pod will creates a state-wide Zoning Atlas (following the standards of the National Zoning Atlas) that will encompass all of Vermont’s 237 towns, 10 cities, 5 unincorporated areas, and 4 gores in collaboration with the 11 regional planning commissions of VAPDA and various State of Vermont Agencies. The Pod will be working on building out the data for towns, validating data and building programming tools to assist in the work of maintaining the Zoning Atlas.

This project was made possible by an anonymous donor

Sponsor: Yoshi Bird
Project GitHub: https://github.com/thebestyoshibird/VT_Zoning_Atlas


The ORCA Program is student led. The program structure provides team members opportunities for promotion and upward mobility within the program. Students that serve as pod members have the opportunity to apply to become pod leaders in the following year (provided they are still enrolled at UVM). This internal promotion plan ensures that, as long as the program is operational there will always be opportunities for students at all experience levels, and a population of experienced students to take on leadership positions within the program as they progress. 




There are multiple leadership roles for students in ORCA:


  • Team Lead – Leads a specific ORCA Pod, provides support for pod members and direction for the project
  • Team Member – Responsible for project execution including working collaboratively with researchers, and the development of open source software using standard engineering methodology.
  • Business Lead – Focused on growth of engagement with activities and marketing initiatives
  • Program Lead – Supports the efficiency and reliability of the ORCA pods, volunteers and the digital infrastructure that supports open activities 
  • Community Lead – Supports the open source community with VERSO and affiliated programs 
  • Mentor – Supports the growth of the leads and teams to help them meet their goals

Current Team

Team Lead ISM - Tushar Asthana (he/him)

I am a senior at UVM studying Computer Science. I’m originally from India, but grew up in South Burlington for the past 16 years. I enjoy playing tennis for the Club Tennis team at UVM and enjoy reading fiction books on the weekends when I'm not doing homework!

Team Lead VTZA - Zoe Srede (she/her)

My name is Zoe Sreden, I am from Maine and am currently a senior at the University of Vermont. I am a Geography major with minors in Global Studies, Community and International Development, and Green Building and Community Design. I am focusing my studies on urban planning and sustainable development, and have interned with Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission previously.

Business Lead - Ruby Blunt (she/her)

I am a junior at UVM studying marketing, accounting, and sustainability, with a minor in sociology. My interest is in how stories and numbers influence people’s behavior which drives my goal of positively contributing to organizations and the planet. I’m from New York and love trying new things and meeting new people!

Program Lead - Jay Lobell (he/him)

My name is Jay Lobell and I am in the accelerated master's program for complex systems & data science. I'm also currently working for Dr. Sarah Nowak as a research assistant to analyze parental vaccine hesitancy. Outside of class you can find me reading science fiction novels, making music, skiing, and playing video games. I'm very grateful to be selected as the project lead intern, and I can't wait to get started!

Community Lead - Tobey Vorus (she/the)

I am currently a freshman at UVM, majoring in Computer Science. Outside of class, I spend much of my time contributing to open-source projects, doing system administration, reading, listening to music, and generally nerding out about anything networking. I look forward to supporting and expanding the open-source community at UVM!

Mentor - Nate Gaylinn (he/him)

Nate Gaylinn has over a decade of experience working for Google Search as a software engineer, tech lead, and manager. He's now a grad student at UVM, and eager to share his tech industry experience as a mentor for the ORCA program

How the Teams Work


Comprising 4-5 student members, each bringing their unique skills and perspectives, the team collaborates closely with professors, researchers, and community experts to identify research with the potential for broader application and transforming these research findings into open projects. 

Pod History

  1. Pod ISM (Fall 2023 – Spring 2024)
  2. Pod VTZA (Spring 2024)

Engineering Methodology

The team utilizes an Agile-inspired methodology emphasizing adaptability, collaboration, iterative development and a user-centered design approach. The following meetings will be held during each sprint:

  • Sprint Planning: At the beginning of each two-week cycle (sprint), the team members collectively select the tasks they will tackle during that period. They allocate tasks based on individual strengths and project needs.
  • Stand-ups: The team gathers for a brief stand-up meeting. Each member shares their progress from the previous standup and any obstacles they’re facing.
  • Sprint Review: At the end of each sprint, the team holds a review session to showcase the completed work, this is recorded and shared with project sponsors. 

Collaboration and Communication Tools

To facilitate remote collaboration and streamlined communication, the team uses a variety of tools:

  • Project Management Software: They utilize project management tools in Github to track tasks, set priorities, and monitor progress.
  • Version Control and Collaboration Platform: They use platforms like GitHub for version control.
  • Video Conferencing: Microsoft Teams are used for virtual meetings, discussions, and brainstorming sessions.
  • Communication Channels: The team maintains communication channels through Slack for quick updates, questions, and sharing resources.
  • Documentation: Detailed documentation for each project, including technical specifications, coding standards, and user guides, is maintained throughout the development process.
  • Knowledge Transfer: When new team members join or as existing ones take on different roles, there’s an organized knowledge transfer process to bring everyone up to speed on ongoing projects. Additionally an Open Source Resource Library (GitHub Repo) where students can build out useful documentation to support the team.
  • ORCA Rules and Structure: The overall operations of the ORCA program are created with students as collaborators, designed to change to fit the program as needed. The GitHub Page: https://verso-uvm.github.io/ORCA/
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