UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Drawing on personal experiences with real-world problems, students in the Department of Biobehavioral Health (BBH) and the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) are putting their heads together to create mobile technologies that advance health and well-being.
As part of Penn State’s Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) this semester, students in BBH and IST will participate in mHealth, a challenge that allows undergraduate students to work in cross-discipline teams to mock-up a mobile health application that addresses a societal health need associated with a specific targeted audience. The event is scheduled for Nov. 17.
The PSU mHealth is modeled after a typical consulting scenario in which a group of subject matter experts (in this case BBH) work with technology experts (IST students) to create a prototype that addresses a defined program or issue for a defined audience.
Students from JoAnn Foley-Defiore’s course in BBH and students from Jim Jansen’s IST course are the collaborators.
“The idea is to really take a behavioral theory … and enable it through mobile technology,” said Meg Small, assistant director for innovations and social change at the Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center.
Specifically, BBH students prepare a brief describing a target population, health need and behavioral objectives designed to address the health need. Students in IST act as technology consultants working with BBH students to create a mock-up of a mobile app that addresses the defined need. Then, BBH and IST students prepare idea pitches with faculty support. Participating teams pitch their ideas to a panel of judges during GEW. The challenge is held once per semester. Last year was its inaugural year.
There are five teams and each team is composed of two to three BBH students and two to three IST students, Small said.
Last spring’s winning team was offered internships by a technology company in Silicon Valley, California.
This year’s students will have other opportunities within Penn State and the local community to work on their ideas after the competition. Lion Launchpad and New Leaf Initiative are among the collaborators, Small said.
“The variety and breadth of ideas … it really is amazing,” she said.
One example of an application that was pitched at last year’s competition was a system to track hospital patients. One of the student participants had an experience where she had been unable to locate a friend who was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery, Small said. She wanted to fix the problem by developing technology to help visitors locate family and friends admitted to the hospital.
“The students are amazing,” she said. “Boy, they come in polished.”