Students address health needs in cross-college engaged scholarship competition

November 20, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As part of Global Entrepreneurship Week, undergraduate students from the College of Nursing, the College of Information Sciences  and Technology (IST), and the Department of Biobehavioral Health (BBH) in the College of Health and Human Development participated in the annual mHealth Challenge. Students formed seven teams with the goal of identifying and finding a way to alleviate a health-related need or concern through a mobile technology solution.

As part of the challenge process, students developed prototypes that were then pitched to a panel of faculty judges. Solutions ranged from binge-drinking management to healthy lifestyle support.

The 2019 winning teams were DAES, an app for dementia and Alzheimer’s engagement strategies; Corpus Visual, an app for real-time language translation for first responders; and Plearn, an app for educating and supporting parents whose child has been diagnosed with cancer.

This year, the mHealth instructors team received two briefs focusing on methods to slow the cognitive progress of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease—one from nursing undergraduates and one from BBH undergraduates. The instructors asked these students to collaborate on a single application on this topic. For the first time a cross-college “hybrid” team developed a mobile technology solution for the mHealth Challenge. The DAES prototype created by nursing, BBH, and IST students won first place.

DAES is designed to enable individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s to play games and engage in online activities specially designed to measure cognitive function and ability and slow the onset of both diseases. Patient interactions with the app are relayed to that individual’s family members – even at a distance.

According to nursing students Kristen Ziegler and Lindsay Vannucci, the decision to create DAES was a result of their clinical and work experiences, and encounters with their own family members. “We saw that there was a lack of cognitively stimulating activities that can engage those with dementia and wanted to make a difference,” said Ziegler.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to have been involved in mHealth, as it was a unique experience that allowed us to collaborate with other students in pursuit of improving a major health issue," shared Vannucci.

Jimin Chun and Matthew McQuaite, IST students on the DAES team, wanted to ensure the group’s app had real-world value and truly solved a problem.

According to Chun, “The reason we were able to be successful is because we really focused on the solution and the impact it brings to the community. We kept asking ourselves as a team, ‘is this something we see ourselves using with our families?’ I think that really helped us to be successful in the competition.”

“This is a group of great people who like solving problems in the Penn State community. It’s a lot of great people working together for a great cause, and I’m happy to be a part of it,” said McQuaite.

Second place went to the Corpus Visual app, prototyped by BBH and IST students, which enables first responders to eliminate communication barriers with non-English-speaking patients. Answering preloaded questions based on EMT and first responder training, using an online translation interface, allows patients to receive the emergency care they need without the delay of waiting for an interpreter to arrive on scene.

Placing third was the Plearn app, prototyped by nursing and IST students, which allows parents with a child diagnosed with cancer to find support and educational resources through a personalized hub. Parents may use this app to communicate with their child’s doctor and care team, and track their child’s symptoms, enabling the parents to feel empowered while also ensuring medical providers receive as much information as possible.

The mHealth Challenge is a semester-long project designed to provide students with an engaged-scholarship experience. Student teams bring to the collaborative design experience the knowledge they’ve acquired in the classroom and apply it in the context of real-world issues. Throughout the process of prototyping and pitching, they learn project management skills and establish interdisciplinary networks.

For more information on the mHealth Challenge, visit:

For more information on Global Entrepreneurship Week, visit:

  • Plearn team pitching their prototype
    IMAGE: Penn State
  • Alyssa Dalida, BBH student, pitching the DAES prototype
    IMAGE: Penn State
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Last Updated January 22, 2020