Features, On-Campus Profiles, Profiles

Ottiger Provides Opportunity for Connection Through Eagles Abroad

When Jake Ottiger and his friends received their study abroad program acceptances this February, they rushed to figure out which other Boston College students would attend the same programs as them. Once Ottiger noticed there was no simple way to access that information, he decided to build one. 

“I’m going abroad to Singapore, and I just noticed a lot of people were talking about it [through] word of mouth, figuring out where people are going from the different programs,” Ottiger, CSOM ’25, said. “I was kind of bummed that I couldn’t see where everyone else was going. I heard that we were going to have an orientation meeting at some point, but I was kind of impatient.”

So on Feb. 23, Ottiger published his website, Eagles Abroad. The site enables BC students who are studying abroad to view other class members enlisted in their schools. Once Ottiger verifies that the student goes to BC and was accepted to a study abroad program, they can click on any BC abroad program, view the list of future attendees, and access their emails to reach out and form connections. 

“It’s just a way to make sure BC students feel comfortable going abroad,” Ottiger said.

As a finance and computer science double major, Ottiger said he taught himself to code during his freshman year at BC. 

“I actually came into college thinking I wanted to do investment banking and stuff, and then that quickly changed,” Ottiger said. “I’d say I started really heavily focusing on the computer science stuff in November 2022, and then just kind of ran with it.”

While Ottiger has only taken a few computer science courses so far, he said his Computer Science II course with former BC professor Rafael Ubal Tena sparked his interest in web design. Ottiger also said he is loosely involved in BC’s competitive programming club and is a part of the BC Computer Science Society. 

When programming, Ottiger said he has learned to problem solve and utilize any available information.

“The most important thing is just being able to figure stuff out,” Ottiger said. “So like, go to Google, ChatGPT, whatever—use the resources that you have, be resourceful, and figure out how to do it.”

Ottiger said he worked as a software engineer intern at the startup RiskAverse last summer, but he emphasized that internship experience was not essential to creating his website.

“It wasn’t like I had any super strong past experience that led me to be able to do this all, you know,” he said. “It was just kind of being curious and following wherever that took me.”

Crediting a past backpacking trip where he journeyed through Europe, Ottiger said he believes travel is crucial to character growth. Yet, unfamiliarity with foreign locations often deters students from studying abroad, he said. 

“I think the main thing I’ve noticed in talking to people about traveling to foreign countries is that sometimes it can be scary or isolating if you’re going on your own or in a smaller program,” he said. “So I kind of wanted to help ease that process because like I said before, I think travel is extremely important.”

Rev. James Keenan, S.J., vice provost for global engagement, said the Office of Global Education (OGE) encourages students to apply to more geographically diverse programs.

“I’m interested in a BC student body that is really global and not just European,” Keenan said. 

Because convincing students to study in non-European programs is difficult, Keenan said Eagles Abroad serves as a great step in the right direction.

“One of the things that we’ve been trying to do is make students more and more informed about their choices,” he said. “And in a similar way, Jake is making it helpful for people who are going to different places to know who else is going there. And my thing is—any bridge building like this makes for better travel.”

About a week or two after OGE released abroad decisions, Ottiger began developing the idea behind Eagles Abroad. After building the site in just one weekend, Ottiger said he posted a link to the new website on Herrd, BC’s anonymous social media platform. Although his Herrd post gained some support, Ottiger said he also received some initial backlash.

“I had to follow up on the Herrd post because someone said, like, ‘Oh, they’re probably taking data or something,’” he said. “And I was like, ‘No guys, I’m not doing anything with your data.’” 

Once about 200 students had registered for Eagles Abroad, Ottiger sent a message in the BC Class of 2025 GroupMe, a group chat where students in the same year at BC can send messages to each other, to further spread the word.

“I just said, ‘Hey guys, made this website to connect kids that are going abroad, there’s like 200 people that are already on there,” he said. “And then that just skyrocketed growth.”

Aside from posting on social media, Ottiger said he tried to avoid promoting the website too aggressively. 

“I didn’t want to be the guy that’s like, you know, slipping stuff under people’s dorm doors and stuff like that,” he said. 

Ottiger’s strategy paid off—the site has already reached over 71,000 views across at least 3,000 unique devices, he said. Ottiger said that of the estimated 800 BC students who go abroad each year, 570 have registered to use the site and approximately 470 have verified their study abroad placements and are now listed under their respective program.

“It’s pretty crazy because again, I was not expecting it to like, blow up or whatever,” Ottiger said. “I wasn’t doing it for the clout. It’s just pretty cool that people are using it and hopefully it eases the study abroad process.”

The site’s popularity has also instigated some unusual run-ins on campus, Ottiger said.

“Two people came up to me in the Addie’s line, and were like, ‘Oh my gosh, I love the website,’ which is pretty cool,” he said. “I think at something in Vandy or Ruby, some people were like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s the website guy,’ which is really weird because it’s like, I don’t know, I just like building stuff and connecting people.”

Before he was getting recognized as the “website guy” on campus, Ottiger was a student in Charles Wiseman’s Computer Systems course. According to Wiseman, Ottiger always displayed an excellent grasp of the material.

“Jake was a phenomenal student,” Wiseman said. “He worked on several different projects and did well on all of them. He’s a top notch programmer, a top notch engineer.”

Now, Ottiger works as a teaching assistant for Wiseman’s Computer Science I course, where Wiseman said he also excels.

“Jake is just an easy guy to get along with,” Wiseman said. “He’s the kind of person I think that others feel comfortable coming to either ask for help or if someone has an idea, you know, they might come to him because I think they know that he’ll treat them with respect and give their idea a fair shot.”

Although Ottiger did inform a couple friends and professors about his project, Eagles Abroad was primarily a solo mission. Wiseman said he simply served as Ottiger’s cheerleader throughout the process.

“This is 100 percent his thing, from beginning to end, and I’m really happy that I’ve been able to watch him as he goes through it,” Wiseman said.

Ottiger did not seek any assistance from OGE either, according to Keenan.

“He did the whole project and told us all afterwards,” Keenan said.

This solo process of actually constructing Eagles Abroad was pretty seamless, Ottiger said.

“A lot of it is just like, going to Google or ChatGPT now, and figuring out how to do stuff,” Ottiger said. “The running joke is software engineers are like, really good at being able to Google things and find the answer to a problem.”

New developments from OpenAI, an artificial intelligence research laboratory that includes softwares like ChatGPT and GPT-4, helped synthesize much of the information needed for the site, Ottiger said. In particular, he used the softwares to help generate facts about all 180 abroad programs that BC offers.

“I think BC does a really good job of having a lot of info, so I was just formatting it in a different way,” Ottiger said.

While many undergraduates may balk at the idea of creating a website in just one weekend, Wiseman said Ottiger’s accomplishment is consistent with his resilient character.

“A big part of it is perseverance,” Wiseman said. “He doesn’t give up. He’s like, ‘Oh, there’s gotta be a solution, I’ll figure it out.’ And that attitude is one the most crucial things for any engineer.” 

Both Wiseman and Keenan stressed how impressive it is for an undergraduate to create a website so quickly and without any help. 

“Jake’s very clever, in the best sense of the word clever,” Keenan said. “He’s a very talented person who puts technology at the service of others.”

And Ottiger is only getting started—on March 20, he launched another website called Eagle Search, which aims to aid students with the course registration process.

“I got all 2,100 classes that BC offers and then compiled all that information, and made it in a way where you can search by meaning as opposed to like, a keyword,” Ottiger said. 

The site also allows students to sign up for course notifications, which will alert them when a spot opens up in a previously full class. Ottiger said he hopes the site will be a useful tool for all BC students.

“The websites he’s building, the tools he’s building—it’s not to serve himself,” Wiseman said. “It’s not to serve other computer scientists. It’s to serve the larger community.”

Given the immediate success of Eagles Abroad, Wiseman said he looks forward to seeing Ottiger continue using his skills to improve the BC community and beyond.

“It speaks well to his desire to make the world a better place,” Wiseman said. “You can imagine, it won’t be long before he’s off solving problems to help people in all kinds of places.”

April 12, 2023