IST, BBH students compete in mHealth Challenge to foster innovation

Jennifer Cifelli
December 03, 2014

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Engaged scholarship at Penn State isn’t just an abstract idea. Last month, the initiative -- defined as out-of-classroom academic experiences that complement in-classroom learning -- brought students from two colleges together to nurture entrepreneurial innovation and teamwork in the form of the mHealth Challenge.

On Nov. 17, 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) joined forces to compete in the fourth mHealth Challenge, a cross-college idea pitch competition to encourage engaged scholarship. The challenge, designed to bring students from different disciplines together to translate technology needs from fruition to effect, had innovative results.

This fall, five teams of students from JoAnn Foley-DeFiore’s Foundations and Principals of Health (BBH316) and Jim Jansen’s Tools for Entrepreneurs (IST337) courses took place in the challenge. First, second and third place winners were chosen by a panel of three judges.

The first-place team’s project, “Recovery,” created by Lindelle George (BBH), Anel Paulino (BBH), Shannon Abrams (BBH) and Kevin Costello (IST), features a mobile application for physical therapy patients, allowing patients to download exercise videos and sequences, monitor reps and pain management, and translate the information back to the therapist.

“Safe & Sound,” the second place winner created by Julia Lynch (BBH), Kathleen Grogan (BBH), Amelia Friedrichs (BBH) and Vernon Martin (IST), is a virtual buddy system mobile app designed to monitor users and check in with them via GPS, locating them if necessary.

Rounding out the awards, third-place winner “Brushing Buddy,” created by Kathryn Hickey (BBH), Emily Doyle (BBH), John Wiater (IST) and Amber Askew (IST) links a smart toothbrush to an iPad, making brushing more efficient and fun.

Additional teams who entered the competition were “Nitt Fit,” created by Rachel Loetzbeier (BBH), Camille Jackson (BBH), Cooper Walsh (IST) and Matthew Osborne (IST); and “Team Travel,” created by Gregory Sanniez (BBH), Gurvir Singh (BBH) and Christopher Cioffi (IST).

Teams in the mHealth Challenge consisted of a mix of students from each class that identified a health issue, then created a mobile app that could address the defined health need and pitch the idea to a panel of judges. The result, said Lee Erickson, lecturer and undergraduate studies entrepreneurship academic program coordinator for IST, is better and more innovative solutions from cross-pollinating ideas.

“The competition challenges students to push themselves to a place that might be slightly out of their comfort zone, or something they wouldn’t do in class,” said Erickson, who has coordinated the event since its inception with Meg Small, assistant director for Innovations and Social Change and research associate, Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development at IST.

First place winning “Recovery” team member Lindelle George, a senior and BH major, said her team capitalized on the expertise of each member to research their project. 

“We knew that in order to be considered a challenge to the other teams, we would have to do background research, and with Shannon's physical therapy experience, Kevin's technology generating skills, and Anel and my knowledge of health behaviors and concepts, the project was a success.”

That’s one reason why engaged scholarship activities are so important to students, said Erickson.

“It’s about the application of content, hands-on experiences for students that they won’t get anywhere else,” she said. “It empowers students, the idea that they are applying their learning as an expert, it elevates students to a new place. Give a person agency and empowerment, and it always open a door.”

Future mHealth Challenges will take place annually in the fall. For more information about the event, visit

Last Updated December 03, 2014