University News

Students collaborate at convention for progressive healthcare technologies

Annual hack-a-thon garners over 150 participants from surrounding schools in New England area

Contributing Writer
Sunday, September 17, 2017

A buzz of innovation and activity characterized this year’s Brown Hack Health, a hackathon in which teams gathered to develop implements for progress in the fields of medicine and healthcare. With a theme of “Reducing Health Disparities,” Hack Health’s second run furthered its mission of creating solutions for national and global issues.

Hack Health co-president Elizabeth Carlson ’19 said the goal of the event was “to bring Brown students and other students from the New England area to think about the intersection between health and technology.”

Held at the Warren Alpert Medical School, the interdisciplinary hackathon garnered over 100 participants, who brought skills ranging from computer science to visual arts. “We get some really great solutions that could possibly help out and be used in the future,” Carlson said.

Some participants felt that their different skill sets allowed for a greater group dynamic. “Half our team is computer science-focused, and the other is more public health, bio-med,” said participant Neha Reddy ’21, adding that, despite the different backgrounds involved, the members of the team “complement each other.” Neha’s teammate, Ana Lucia Espinosa Dice ’20, noted that it was “really beautiful to watch the STEM field and the technology and business industries bleed into the public health world.”

Rajiv Kumar ’05 MD’11, president and chief medical officer of Virgin Pulse, was invited to be the keynote speaker of the event. Kumar was also a co-founder and CEO of Shape-Up, a wellness company focused on social connection and employee health. In his keynote address, Kumar shared his experience in business, technology and public health, telling participants that “digital health offers an opportunity to change lives.”

Throughout his speech, Kumar reminded the hackathon’s participants to be patient and realistic. “Focus on your outcomes,” Kumar advised the audience as they began to prepare for Hack Health.

Kumar left participants with an encouraging thought: “One thing got us up and going every day. It was that we actually had an impact on people’s lives.” With that, participants were sent off to try their hand at developing their own solutions.

After numerous pitch presentations and hack sessions, Hack Health wrapped up in an awards presentation ceremony. The panel of judges brought together a range of experts including Executive Director of MedMates Carol Malysz, Associate Dean for Medical Education at the Medical School Allan Tunkel and Director of the Center for Biomedical informatics Neil Sarkar.

Awards were given out to the top three teams. The first prize of $1,000 went to GrowUPS, a team that focused on “prosthetic sockets” that could be customized for patients with above-knee amputations. GrowUPS team member Alex Lo ’18 said that their project aims to increase access to prosthetics among low-income patients, particularly those in developing countries. The runner-up was Directed Step, which worked on a prosthetic alignment device. The third place award went to SimpleIR, which used infrared technology to ease the process of venous and arterial blood draws.

The Hack Health team also introduced new awards for this year’s competition: The Brown Center of Biomedical Engineering awarded a prize to the project that showed the most promise in engineering, and the Swearer Center for Public Service awarded a prize for the project demonstrating potential in public service. The Brown Center of Biomedical Engineering award went to first prize winner GrowUPS, and the Swearer Center award, a $500 prize, was given to REMINDlet, “a wearable, time-dependent, color-changing appointment reminder.”

Though the events of this packed weekend have come to a close, the Hack Health team said they hope that participants’ efforts do not end here. Carlson hopes that “a group will be inspired by this event to then continue on with their project.”

Update, Sept. 18: In a welcome speech to hack-a-thon members, organizers said that 150 students were in attendance. In a message to the Herald, the organizers clarified that closer to 100 students were in attendance. The article has been updated at 1:07 a.m. on Sept. 18 to reflect that. 

Correction: A precious version of this article listed Waterline Ventures Managing Director Robbie Greenglass and Associate Professor of Industrial Design at RISD Claudia Rébola as judges. They were not. The Herald regrets the error.

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One Comment

  1. Since Christina Paxson and Brown’s Admissions Department considers us to be brown floating matter in a punchbowl–I’m reaching to the students to see if they’d like to help bring Brown from the 19th Century to the 21st Century:

    What’s the future for professors at Brown?

    Brown’s faculty is facing an immediate and pressing crisis. Long protected by the cloak of a well-respected university with an endowment, tenure, and a reputation as an Ivy League school, Brown’s professors are now facing a world where ‘their’ students are free to study under whomever they please, and ‘their’ university no longer has a monopoly on students’ time and attention.
    If you are teaching, say, Biology 101 at Brown, you are now competing with Stanford, Harvard, MIT, Yale and a host of other universities teaching these courses online. If your students find that Professor X at Stanford is doing a better job of teaching biology, they can skip your lectures and take the online course, showing up only for the tests (and passing them even though they haven’t listened to your lectures). Students now have the option of finding the best course to fit their needs, no longer bound by Brown’s perimeter.
    Textbooks are toast—they will disappear this year or next. In the past, textbooks were a good way for top professors or departments to supplement their income. As textbook costs have risen to stratospheric levels (and they’re heavy to carry), professors have had to resort to continuous updates, thus obliging students to use the latest textbook (and not turn to the used textbook market).
    The new way to teach is not through textbooks, but through online teaching, ala Khan Academy. Both the teaching and the tests and exercises associated with them are online and available—free—to all. Students at Brown are asking why, in addition to shouldering $55,000 of tuition and fees, they must shell out over $100 per text book.
    In this tectonic shift for professors, how can they adapt to the new environment for teaching? No longer protected by tenure, or Brown’s reputation, or even by their former monopoly hold on their students’ attention, things look pretty bleak. Their income sources—salary, textbooks and government research grants, are under threat.
    Forward-thinking professors can rejoice in a coming golden era for teaching. Rather than reaching tens of students with lecture-format teaching and one-on-one visits in their offices, they can reach out to millions. Coursera’s Stanford professors now boast of teaching well over 100,000 students for some of their most popular courses.
    Rather than preparing a lecture which is given every semester, professors can concentrate on giving their best lecture and preserving it online. By “packaging,” professors put their best teaching foot forward.
    Textbooks are dead, but reaching students has never been more ubiquitous. The good professors, those who teach well, can count on building star-quality followings well beyond the walls of Brown. Students from around the world will clamor for additional contact with these professors.
    Income sources will change for professors. Rather than salary, textbook royalties and government grants, professors will count on online revenues to replace or even exceed their current incomes. Models to derive income from online teaching range from freemium/advertising models (ala Google) to certification, to testing and consulting, to speaker’s fees for in-person appearances. This is more similar to the current music industry than the traditional teaching model. Salaries and government grants will become a secondary source of income for good teachers.
    Where are the models for this new way of teaching—and earning income—in academia? There are two tried-and-proven models: Harvard Business School derives significant revenues from the sale of its cases (over 25,000) to other business schools around the world. In the 1700s, professors (called ‘lecturers’) depended upon fees paid directly to them for their lectures. Adam Smith earned a high income because his lectures were sought-after. The same will be true in the coming years—good teachers will earn more.
    How can a Brown professor, grad student or lecturer respond to these challenges? They can implement these four steps to embrace the change in their environment:
    1. Recognize that you are the key resource for your students, not just Brown University.
    2. Develop online teaching which uses the benefits of the medium. Study the Khan Academy and the case learning method. Use online teaching to gauge student’s interest and ability to understand what you are teaching.
    3. Develop formal, online methods of communicating with students at Brown and in other teaching settings, including ways to communicate with off-campus students who take your free courses.
    4. Do not reach for the easy choice, such as Coursera. In the end, you control your destiny, not an external online teaching resource.
    Start today. The changes are happening now. Brown has thrived for 249 years, but it must adapt is methods, as it always has, to stay relevant.

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