The Catalyst

Students challenged to create health apps

By Cindy Abole
Public Relations

A select group of African-American high school and college computer science students from around the state were brought together to tap their innovative spirit and explore the advantages and challenges of entrepreneurship. The effort paired creativity with health care technology to develop promising new patient-focused smart phone applications that can improve people’s lives.

MUSC President Dr. Ray Greenberg, from left, AT&T President of S.C. Operations Pamela Lackey and AT&T External Affairs Director Ted Creech talk to Michelle Frazier and Adaya Sturkey.
MUSC President Dr. Ray Greenberg, from left, AT&T President of S.C. Operations Pamela Lackey and AT&T External Affairs Director Ted Creech talk to Michelle Frazier and Adaya Sturkey.

The effort was part of an eight-week residential summer program that taught participants how to conduct team-based product development and bring these ideas to market.

MUSC’s Summer Entrepreneurial and Medical Apps Internship Program taught the basics of app development, entrepreneurship, project management, team-building and business operations using hands-on experiences, lectures, speakers and working in teams to develop a business plan and presentation.

The program was a collaboration of the College of Nursing’s Technology Application Center for Healthful Lifestyles and MUSC’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Eight computer science students from Claflin University, Vorhees College and South Carolina’s Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics participated in the internship, which allowed them to use their computer programming experience with today’s mobile phone technology to create user friendly products. Additional sponsorship came from AT&T, Johnson Controls and private donations.

The students, according to Tom Finnegan, director of the MUSC Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and program co-director, represented a range of ages and experiences.

GSSM graduate Michelle Frazier listens while Claflin University student Joshua Goodwin shares his impressions of the internship program.
GSSM graduate Michelle Frazier listens while Claflin University student Joshua Goodwin shares his impressions of the internship program.

“We recognized how challenging it would be to bring students from different backgrounds, education levels, skillsets and personalities together in this effort. Eight weeks later, they have all emerged as confident and knowledgeable individuals who together made one big family. I’m confident that everyone who leaves this program has gained something from it,” said Finnegan.

The programming curriculum was taught and led by Sachin Patel, research instructor, TACHL systems architecture and internship co-director, and Finnegan, who conducted the entrepreneurship section. Patel’s section focused on the development, evaluation and commercialization of technologies relating to prevention and management of chronic disease.

While Finnegan’s piece introduced students to management and entrepreneurial skills and best practices.

From the start, students were placed in teams and assigned a project to develop and integrate a mobile technology clinical app that would promote either disease prevention and management of a chronic disease affecting African-Americans.

Working with Patel and TACHL staff, the students were introduced to software and information systems that could be used with medical devices, smart phones, web-based computer assisted programs and interactive call centers to support disease prevention and management technologies.

The three teams collectively selected a diverse set of  applications that related to a physical exercise and activity tracker, physician communications and medication reminder.

“The final projects were easy for us to advise as they were all related to consumers and health care,” said Patel. “We pretty much said to them, ‘Here’s a concept, now figure it out.’ Each of the teams worked together in finalizing their project ideas. We assisted by helping them identify their customer base and find out what they would want a phone app to do to meet their health needs as guided by practice guidelines and build a business plan around that. Once again the students came through with their own successes.”

Voorhees College’s Jennifer P. Jackson studies computer science and was among eight students involved in the programming, product development and commercialization of a medical app idea.
Voorhees College’s Jennifer P. Jackson studies computer science and was among eight students involved in the programming, product development and commercialization of a medical app idea.

Voorhees College computer science junior Jennifer P. Jackson first heard about the program through Voorhees’ Center of Excellence. She learned the summer internship provided a stipend and an opportunity to learn programming and product development using medical apps. The internship’s entrepreneurial curriculum was a bonus as Jackson is already a small business owner of a music DJ company.

“After completing this program, I have a better idea of what I want to do with my career. Computer science is a broad field and with this hands-on experience, I feel I now know what I need to do,” Jackson said.

Creating new friendships and collaborating with others also attracted Orangeburg native Michelle Frazier. A 2013 GSSM graduate, Frazier is headed to Clemson University in the fall and was recruited by GSSM leadership as an additional opportunity to conduct summer research.

For her team’s project, Frazier worked with Markea Sheppard and Dominic Bett, both Claflin University students majoring in computer science. The team developed a smartphone fitness tracking app.

“I like hanging out with smarter people than myself. You learn more. Everyone was nice and respectful. We treated each other as equals in every way,” said Frazier. “Being here with this program has made me upgrade my life game plan. If I really tried, I can work toward being an entrepreneur. I want to do more things in life. In this program we listened to successful entrepreneurs tell their story, and it helped me realize what anyone can do with a good idea. As for this experience, I definitely would recommend it to anyone.”

MUSC President Dr. Ray Greenberg joins sponsors from AT&T, internship instructors Sachin Patel and Tom Finnegan and graduates of the first MUSC Summer Entrepreneurial and Medical Apps Internship Program.
MUSC President Dr. Ray Greenberg joins sponsors from AT&T, internship instructors Sachin Patel and Tom Finnegan and graduates of the first MUSC Summer Entrepreneurial and Medical Apps Internship Program.

Discussions for this project began as early as 2010 under the guidance of MUSC President Ray Greenberg, M.D., Ph.D., as a way to inspire and attract minorities, especially African-Americans, to consider careers in technology that support or contribute to the Tri-county’s growth in the areas of research, science and innovation.

South Carolina’s African-American unemployment rate was 1.5 times higher than the overall state rate during the third quarter of 2011, according to an Economic Policy Institute study. Greenberg and local leaders are supportive to training and preparing minority programmers, developers and entrepreneurs to use new technologies and discoveries that can positively impact health care for this population in the future.

With good overall results, both Finnegan and Patel are pleased to have developed an internship that now can be offered to a variety of other students including medical and graduate students.

They both agree that the rewards as co-leaders of the program have far exceeded their expectations.

“This was truly a rewarding experience. It was fun to see how each developed through this process. It shows that with young people, one can never foresee their potential until it happens,” Patel said.

Finnegan summed up the risk and rewards best.

“There was an element of some risk in this project as this was an entirely new experience for the internship students, our team and support people at MUSC," he said. "However, this is the type of thinking and mindset that MUSC’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is trying to introduce and support – the need to convert ideas into commercial projects. This internship took a lot of prodding for all of us to get to this point. I would like to thank Dr. Greenberg, the program sponsors, and the support team for their faith and confidence in getting us through to complete this experience.”

August 13, 2013
 
 
 

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