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Hamilton Economic Development

New app to show students city’s charms — and keep grads here

Thousands of young people from all over the world come to Hamilton each year to study. Some have never been here before and arrive knowing nothing about their new home.

Too many leave at graduation still knowing nothing about the city.

A new app called MyHamilton aims to introduce students to Hamilton and show them what it offers. The goal: To convince more of them to live and work here once their studies are over.

MyHamilton is a crowd-based app that combines social media platforms, geotagging and mapping and interactive forums.

It’s hoped students will tell share with other students everything — from great places to eat, shop or have a drink, to the best biking trails and ways to spend a Saturday morning in the city.

The initial stage will focus on the city core, defined as Dundurn to Wentworth and the escarpment to the bay. The goal is to eventually expand the app’s range across the city.

Users are asked to use the Twitter hashtag #myhamilton and to enable geotagging so that locations are mapped. The app will also include event, job and rental housing postings, along with discounts offered by advertisers.

The app is a partnership between McMaster University, Mohawk College, Columbia International College, the City of Hamilton and technology company Weever Apps.

McMaster is focused on developing a distinct undergraduate experience and connecting the university with the city, and the app fits both mandates says Phil Wood, dean of students at Mac.

“We have a ‘pop the bubble’ program where we try to get students, particularly our new students, out of the McMaster ‘bubble’ and into the Hamilton community. This new app is a perfect tool for this effort.”

Gisela Oliveira, employment services co-ordinator at McMaster’s Student Success Centre, says young people want to be engaged both locally and globally, and Hamilton can become a thriving metropolis by tapping into that energy and enthusiasm.

“How many cities offer the opportunity to students and youth to shape its future?”

The key to that is making sure they venture beyond the campus and Westdale, she says.

“I truly believe we have a great city and all we have to do is let students see it.”

Any funds raised through advertising will be used to create programming that allows students to experience Hamilton through jobs, internships and volunteer postings, she adds.

Huzaifa Saeed, vice-president of education at the McMaster Students Union, says his organization didn’t really concern itself about student retention in Hamilton until a survey a few years ago revealed that 78 per cent of Mac students said Hamilton wouldn’t be their first choice in looking for a job or finding a home.

Saeed says most of the reasons why students said they didn’t want to stay were based on misconceptions. Getting them to truly experience the city will change some minds, he says.

“But we can lecture people as much as we want. At the end of the day, they will be influenced by what their peers do.”

David Boda, activities adviser for student development at Columbia, says students always ask him where to eat or go in the city. He says the international students are highly tuned into social media and technology and he expects them to embrace the new app.

Developing the app was a labour of love for Steve McBride, vice-president of business development at Weever Apps, a fast-growing Hamilton software company. He’s a proud downtown Hamiltonian with deep family roots in the city.

“When we got the project, it was great for us. We did it at a huge discount, because we wanted to be part of it so much.”

Initially, the app won’t be sold through online app stores. Instead, campuses and social media will be papered with QR codes that lead to the app.

Article courtesy The Hamilton Spectator.

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