IST students make apps a reality in mHealth challenge

Jenny Cifelli
November 28, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa – Entrepreneurship and cross-college collaboration was a winning combination for students from the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) who took part in the mHealth Challenge during Global Entrepreneurship Week in November.

On Nov. 13-14, students enrolled in IST’s “Technologies for Digital Entrepreneurs” class joined students from Penn State’s College of Nursing, College of Health and Human Development and the Department of Biobehavioral Health (BBH) to engage in the multidisciplinary pitch competition on the University Park campus. More than 50 students participated in the challenge that encourages students to explore societal health issues and brainstorm mobile applications that could positively impact individuals’ health.

“What’s nice about this particular event is that multiple colleges are competing in one general competition. IST students get to talk to people from other majors and colleges and discuss different subject areas that maybe they’ve never learned about before,” said Megan Costello, lecturer in Information Sciences and Technology and faculty coordinator for IST’s mHealth participants. 

“The great thing about mHealth is that most students in this class have no real experience with the medical field, and yet they get to team up with other students who do work in that industry and can offer knowledge about a growing field that IST students might work with in the future,” Costello said.

Each of the 13 mHealth teams was paired with at least one IST consultant, who helped the nursing and BBH students create a prototype of a mobile app. They were tasked with addressing the needs of their target audience, gathering the requirements for functionality, and helping to create the pitch. The entrepreneurship of the event was possible by the collaboration between teammates from different colleges and backgrounds.

“Our team worked well together to make our app different than other similar products already in the marketplace,” said Matt Lesner, a junior majoring in IST who helped create “The Buddy App,” a resource for veterans dealing with PTSD. “Just learning how to work with people who are different and have different knowledge was really interesting and great entrepreneurial experience.”

Lesner worked with fellow IST student Lane Gottenberg and a team of BBH students who created the idea for “The Buddy App,” one of six teams that progressed to the final pitch round. Lesner and Gottenberg said they collaborated the BBH students to maximize the app’s functionality.

“The BBH team members came up with the idea, and we showed them the different things they could do with the app to help them bring their ideas to life,” said Gottenberg. “Working with different user requirements was a really positive experience.”

Maria Diamonti, a junior majoring in business management with a minor in digital entrepreneurship, said she liked the challenge of bringing someone else’s idea to fruition. Nursing students Holly Weinschenk and Maura Bacik had the idea for “My Buddy,” the second place winner with an interactive iPad app for pediatric asthma sufferers who take daily medications.  Kids can create their own avatars that will remind them to take daily medications in exchange for points and other incentives, and even includes notifications for parents. After helping bring Weinschenk and Bacik’s vision to life for the competition, Diamonti said, “I always wanted to help people but I didn’t know how. Now I see that I can make life better with technology, not just easier.”

 “All 13 teams had very strong proposals and all the competitors gave it their all,” said Costello. “It’s a really enriching experience for every participant.”

The first place team created “Nursing Navigator,” an app for new parents to collect data relating to newborn care. The team was comprised of IST student Neil Vohra and Nursing students Justine Scheloske, Chelsea Midtvedt, and Mallory Polakovic.

The third place winners were BBH students Will Smart and Chris Koilor for their “Salama” app that addresses stigmatization of mental illness in African American communities. Their team partnered with IST student Ifedunni Segun-Abugan.

All of the teams were encouraged to consult with Happy Valley Launch Box in State College to discuss expansions of their ideas.

Judges for the mHealth Challenge Semi-Finals were Daniel Max Crowley, assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State; Michelle Haffner, Manager for Infectious Diseases and Professional Development, University Health Services at Penn State; and Stan Aungst, Senior Lecturer in Security and Risk Analysis, College of IST at Penn State. In the Finals, the teams were judged by Sam Huma, Head of Data Exchange Technologies, CDISC; Matt Rhodes, Managing Director, 1855 capital; and Wayne Thompson, Senior Vice President and CIO, Mount Nittany Health System.

In addition to Costello, faculty advisers included Dr. Beth Cutezo for the College of Nursing and Dr. Joann Foley-DeFiore for the Department of Biobehavioral Health.

To learn more about Penn State’s mHealth Challenge, visit

Last Updated January 24, 2017