You’ve got your class schedule all figured out: you’re knocking out that dreaded formal studies distro, you snagged the best professor in your major through pre-registration and you even have a class with that cute girl from BrewBike. It’s perfect… until you realize that somehow they all overlap. You have to start over, and this time, you need to visualize the schedule. Enter Serif.nu.
For nearly five years, Northwestern students have turned to Serif to stay organized during the chaos of registration. Using next quarter’s course data from the Office of the Registrar, the site allows users to avoid conflicting classes by visualizing their schedule on a color-coded weekly calendar. Unlike similar schedule-building websites, Serif was created solely by and for Northwestern students. While that makes it unique, it also makes the future of Serif uncertain.
In 2015, Joon Park was in his third year at Northwestern when he taught himself how to code by programming a scheduling assistant, which he named Serif. The name stems from a rumor in 2014 that Northwestern remade its logo with a serif-type font to emulate Ivy League schools, a sentiment Park disagreed with.
“To this day, we’ve never had a serif font on the entire site,” Park says.
Constructing Serif while juggling a physics and music composition dual degree and various extracurriculars meant many late nights, but Park remained dedicated. Before the end of fall quarter, Park showed the site to his friends, who encouraged him to publish it. So Park redesigned Serif with an audience in mind: all Northwestern students
The second version went up in time for spring quarter registration in 2016. A year later, Serif won first place at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Project Showcase. Bolstered in part by the win, Serif increased in popularity over the next year.
With graduation on the horizon, Park recruited current students to help manage the site in exchange for experience with professional software development.
“I didn’t want Serif to be something where I would just abandon it and it would stop working,” Park says.
Five years later, Serif is more popular than ever. According to Kevin Lee, the current Serif student team leader, the site’s servers were receiving over 50,000 requests for course data a day during Wildcat Welcome 2019. Much to Lee’s amazement, the servers partly crashed as a result.
“Not in a million years when I started working on this would I have thought this was how big it would get,” says Park.
Despite Serif’s success, its time may be running out. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the team to a standstill. With graduation this spring, Lee will be leaving Serif, and Park will soon be moving from Chicago to the San Francisco Bay Area to take a job at Google. As both Lee and Park grow away from Northwestern, they’re looking for someone who’s willing to maintain Serif or use it as a foundation for something better.
This may not be easy. As Medill third-year Madison Dong, a Serif team member who was mentored by Park, puts it, “It’s hard to find someone who is as dedicated to this specific project as Joon was when he was starting it.”
If Lee and Park can’t find someone to take over, the Serif development team will dissolve after spring quarterr. According to a pop-up on the Serif website as of late May, this means that “Active development and maintenance of Serif.nu will cease unless a capable and dedicated developer takes over ownership of the project.”
Whatever the future holds, Park says Serif has had a good run.
“Maybe it’s my turn to kind of let that go and let other students fill that void,” Park says, “Maybe there will be other students who come in and make something even better to replace it.”