Students Partner to Create Innovative Apps in mHealth Challenge

Members of the first-place team, Safe Zone, presenting their sexual assault prevention mobile application during the mHealth Challenge.
Members of the first-place team, Safe Zone, presenting their sexual assault prevention mobile application during the mHealth Challenge.

Over 50 undergraduate students recently participated in the mHealth cross-college engaged scholarship event during Penn State’s annual Global Entrepreneurship Week. Students involved in the mHealth challenge develop a prototype of a mobile application that addresses a health problem for a specific target audience.

The top three teams were Safe Zone (sexual assault prevention); Legendairy (lactose intolerance management); and Vax Trax (child vaccination history management).

“This challenge was unlike anything I've ever had to do before in my major, but it made me think about the information I've learned about in class and apply it to a real-life situation,” said Paulina Vuong, BBH student and member of the winning Safe Zone team. “The app was created in hopes that those who want to socialize with friends never have to compromise on safety.”

Each team included students from the College of Nursing and the Department of Biobehavioral Health (BBH) in the College of Health and Human Development, who collaborated with students from the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) in creating a prototype of a health-focused app.

Students had about one month to create the design of their prototype before presenting it to a panel of judges at the semi-finals. Thirteen teams participated in a semi-final competition, where judges selected six teams for the finals competition.

The first-place team, Safe Zone, created an app that helps students stay safe on nights out with friends in order to combat sexual assault. Their app allows one person to be the “leader” and check in with their friends to see their location. There are also emergency buttons to press if one feels unsafe, and ways to track each person individually.

The Safe Zone app is designed specifically with college students in mind. It allows the group leader to change the plan and settings for each night out, according to Madison Swick, a BBH student and team member.

A lactose-tracking app for those with dairy intolerance, “Legendairy,” earned second place in the competition. The Legendairy app makes it possible for these individuals to navigate the difficulties of their new diet in an easy way that allows them to control their lactose intake.

“Having previously studied abroad in global health, I've seen firsthand the potential that emerging technologies have to increase health awareness and access to care in under-resourced settings,” said Alana Mazzei, member of the Legendairy team. “As a BBH student, however, I had not previously learned how to make an app like this a reality. I look forward to continuing my involvement in the health-tech space.”

Vax Trax, an app designed to easily maintain records of children’s medical vaccines on a parent’s phone, won third place in the challenge. In addition to helping parents keep track of their children’s vaccine history, the app provides information about any side effects or warnings for vaccines, tracks when children have to get their next renewal of the vaccine, and essentially provides all of the information that a parent would normally receive in a paper brochure that often gets misplaced or thrown away.

“The mHealth Challenge was a great chance to test our technical and entrepreneurial skills, and the opportunity to collaborate with students studying health to make something of our own was a great experience,” said Matt Dejene, IST student and member of the Vax Trax team.

Another Vax Trax team member and IST student, Christopher Carradorini, commented, “My team utilized an online prototyping tool to design a functional user interface. I learned to collaborate with people of different backgrounds and interests. The pitch competition also taught me how to effectively speak to an audience.”

Finals judges were Dr. Laura Jana, a pediatrician, best-selling author, and health communicator; Susan Foster, Director of Education at Mount Nittany Medical Center; and Dave Costlow, Vice President for Marketing and Operations at Pledge It, a company that empowers athletes.

Judges encouraged the students to follow through with their ideas and make these apps a reality. They gave feedback to help facilitate improvements for the future.

Other teams in the mHealth challenge created various apps to help children with autism, Type I diabetes, cerebral palsy, and people with MRSA.

 “The mHealth challenge gave me a breadth of insight and experience regarding collaboration among peers, presentation skills, public speaking skills, and plenty more,” said Michael Strizziere, IST student and member of the winning Safe Zone team. “These talents are incredibly important for my career, and I plan to apply them throughout the rest of my education and in future endeavors with employers.”