Students to develop mobile health app in cross-college idea pitch competition

Stephanie Koons
March 26, 2014

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- In recent years, individuals have increasingly turned to apps that can help them lose weight, track their blood pressure, quit smoking or perform a number of other functions to assist them in their lifestyle goals. As costs go down and applications increase, wearable technology — which includes smartwatches, exercise trackers and heart rate monitors — is becoming increasingly popular among health-conscious consumers.

At Penn State, students from the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) and the Department of Biobehavioral Health (BBH) in the College of Health and Human Development (HHD) are working together to develop a mobile solution that addresses a societal health issue in a cross-college idea pitch competition.

“Health-based mobile computing is a major growth area,” said Irene Petrick, a senior lecturer at the College of IST.

Students in Petrick’s class, Innovation and Design in a Digital World, along with the students enrolled in the Biobehavioral Health classes Research Application and Immigrant Health, are taking part in the second Penn State mHealth Challenge. The mHealth Challenge allows undergraduate students to work in cross-disciplinary teams to prototype a mobile health application that addresses a societal health need associated with a specific targeted audience. In this year’s challenge, students are focusing on how bests to leverage wearable technology to put real-time information in the hands of patients, health care professionals, and anyone trying to live a healthy lifestyle. The students will create apps that will use a Google Glass, wrist or mobile phone platform. Google Glass is a wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display that displays information in a smartphone-like hands-free format that can communicate with the Internet via natural language voice commands. For those who don't like wearing a pedometer on their waistbands or carrying a pocket pedometer, there's a new breed of activity monitors that consumers wear as a bracelet or wristband.

The first mHealth Challenge, which was attended by more than 200 people, was held at the College of IST in November 2014 during Global Entrepreneurship Week, the world’s largest celebration of the innovators and job creators who launch startups. The second mHealth Challenge will be held during the College of IST’s third annual Startup Week, a week-long showcase of innovation and entrepreneurship for students to challenge their minds to think more broadly in whatever career path they choose, which will be held April 7 to 11. The event will feature dozens of speakers from around the country, including many Penn State alumni, who have created valued businesses and products in the current technology market.

As part of the mHealth Challenge, BBH students will prepare a brief describing a target population, health need and behavioral objectives designed to address the need. IST students will act as technology consultants working with BBH students to create a prototype of a mobile app that addresses the defined health need. BBH and IST students will prepare idea pitches with faculty support, and teams will pitch their ideas to a panel of judges from 6 to 8 p.m. April 7 in the IST Cybertorium. The public is invited to attend the idea pitch session.

“Unlike typical classroom activities, the mHealth Challenge has extensive coaching and mentoring from a cross-College perspective,” Petrick said. “Further, students gain invaluable experience in moving an idea from concept to viable product prototype.”

The judges for the mHealth Challenge are Mary Good, president of Good Advice LC, CEO of DoctorBase and founder of Five9; and Todd Erdley, president and CEO of Videon. In addition to Petrick, the faculty advisers are Joe Gyekis, instructor of biobehavioral health; Meg Small, assistant director for innovations and social change and research associate in the Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development; and Lee Erickson, lecturer in the College of IST.

To learn more about the PSU mHealth Challenge, visit

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Last Updated March 27, 2014