There’s an App for That

Laura McLaughlin

Service Learning and Community Service

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

I focused my STEP opportunity on siphoning my passion for maternal-infant health, public health, and patient education into a prototype for a mobile application with the intent of decreasing miseducation and diminished resources which all contribute to infant mortality in the United States. Working with programming students on platforms that support both iOS and Android smartphones, we created a prototype of the app. I also established a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC), pitched my idea for funding, and began networking for sponsorships/partnerships.

 

  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

It is safe to say that my STEP project is unlike most of my peers’ due to the individualized nature of the project I worked on; it was not a two week study abroad or summer internship. Instead, my route was much more ambiguous and required a great deal of planning and extensive self-exploration related to startups, technology, and learning to navigate the healthcare and business industries. The most intimidating aspect of this project was that I had to rely solely on myself and trust my intuition.

This, however, was also the most empowering aspect because I can attribute my personal and professional growth back to what started out as simply an interest and funding money. I developed my financial intelligence to optimize the use of the $2,000 asset money for greatest possible outcomes. I gained confidence in my idea by developing and presenting my pitch in environments I am not accustomed. My introduction to the high risk for infant mortality populations challenged my world view and perception of the issue by allowing me to realize that opportunity is the true disparity. It was humbling to see how my assumption of providing healthcare information to this population compared to what they truly needed.

 

  1. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

When I originally set out to create my mobile app, I had only begun to scrape the surface on the national and global factors that impact the United States’ infant mortality rate. In the beginning, as with any problem one seeks to impact, I delved deeply into education on the subject—especially as it pertained to Ohio. One of the most notable experiences I gained this year included attending the Infant Mortality Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland is considered by some reports to rank as the second worst rate of infant death among all USA cities, thus making it an excellent location for me to study and aspire to positively impact. The convention brought together an impressive task force of community representatives, health care professionals, government officials, health insurance companies, and academics all seeking to share what they have learned while acquiring new information and connections to further aid the impact of their efforts. Though I had little experience to contribute at that point in my project, I was able to expand my knowledge of the subject by interacting with variety of perspectives from different disciplines.

This two day conference required me to improve my confidence, heightened my networking skills, forced me to question my own ingrained prejudices which play a significant role in healthcare, and challenged me to think of infant mortality as a social and moral issue that is unique upon every case of infant death. I had incorrectly likened this problem to the straightforward path of diagnosing and treating a physiological problem, as I had seen and participated in during my clinical rotations. I finally realized that this was not the case and it would require expansion of my world view to include populations often misconstructed in our perceptions: individuals with limited education and opportunity, low socio-economic status, and a distrust of healthcare professionals. Instead of feeling intimidated at the thought of trying to fulfill my proposed STEP project under the short time constraint, I left inspired by the work of thousands who attended that day. I realized that the change I aspired to create was the beginning of a life-long pursuit, not simply a project confined to one year.

After recognizing that I wanted to pursue building my app past this one year mark, I started looking for ways to receive feedback on my mobile application ideation and for funding sources. My professor in the Entrepreneurship and Innovation minor encouraged me to apply to the Best of Student Startup Competition through Ohio State’s Fisher School of Business. I was selected to continue in the process and spent the next month attending workshops and creating my pitch. After passing the initial pitch, I was selected as a top five finalist to present to a greater community and table of Columbus judges. Though I knew I had worked hard and was passionate about my idea, I did not expect to win. Earning the first place and seed money is a moment I will treasure for a long time. What made it even more humbling was the support and encouragement I received as the crowd reacted to my project. Coming home that night and processing what had happened, I realized that a year before that I could never have imagined I had the personal grit, sophistication, or desire to pursue the BOSS competition. Without STEP I would never have fostered this personal growth and achievement.

It is important to mention the day-in and day-out tasks and responsibilities which are perhaps less strikingly significant but undoubtedly contributed to my growth over the past year. The most challenging problem to circumvent was finding the right avenue for programming. When I wrote my proposal, my intent was to use an online platform to create my mobile application. I even attended a PhoneGap/Buildfire training session held by the College of Nursing. To my disappointment, however, I realized the platform was limiting and did not present much potential for the work I wanted to put out. Upon looking into companies you can pay to program your app, I noted the significant cost was well above my ability to fund. Discouraged, I reached out to the OSU Computer Science Department, friends, and family to find someone with programming experience interested in working alongside me. The initial search was unfruitful, but I was finally connected to a University of Cincinnati student who assisted me during the summer of 2016. By the time school began in August, it was apparent that my project and the programmer’s skillset were not a good match, so I paid him for his time and effort and went back to searching for an avenue. While I did not use any of the work completed during this time on my current prototype, I learned what questions to ask when hiring, the importance of putting an agreement into contract, and experience collaborating with someone from a different field of experience. These lessons came in very useful when I met my current programmer and made me determined to get it right this time.

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  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

When I began my clinical rotations sophomore year, I realized with some discontent that I would not be satisfied to be a bedside nurse for my entire career. The aspects I love most about nursing—improving the lives of patients through health education and by implementing my problem-solving techniques to holistically treat their conditions—had application but not enough to fulfill me. After exploring a variety of different avenues, I realized that women and children are my favorite population to work with and I prefer to do so in the public health setting. I had always seen graduate school as the key to working with these populations, and while I will most likely still pursue that, I have been exposed to a whole new avenue: social entrepreneurship. I have learned that nursing is not the only career with will allow me to benefit the lives of others and I have gained confidence in realizing that I need not be confined.  The transformation this project has provided me with set me up to be satisfied in the pursuit of my passions and allowed me to gain relevant experience relating to public health of women and children. I am thrilled that this application could easily be translated into a research project. When it comes to making a difference and pursuing my ambitions, I have realized that the time to chase this goal is not “sometime in the future,” but instead “now.”

One of the reasons I chose to attend Ohio State over other universities was because I knew that their dedication to research, investing in their students, and vast accolades across a variety of disciplines would provide me with opportunities and growth that a smaller school could never offer. My STEP experience is a testament to the university’s dedication to student potential. Acquiring knowledge, as I do in the classroom, is important, but it is valuable only when accompanied by action. Thank you Ohio State for inspiring and funding that action.

Example of informative graphics of prototype.

Maternal Health Selection Page of Prototype