MFA students win ND App Challenge

by Lenette Votava

App Challenge 2017 74

The first Notre Dame App Challenge concluded on Wednesday, March 29, with presentations by each of the four final teams to the judging committee and the public in Mendoza’s Jordan Auditorium.

South Bend City Connect, an app aimed at reducing the cost of poverty for South Bend residents, took the top prize of $7,500.The app was created by graduate students Miriam Moore and Robbin Forsyth, who are both pursuing Master of Fine Arts degrees in the Department of Art, Art History and Design.

South Bend City Connect is designed to connect residents of South Bend with city services such as utilities, banking, and public assistance, and to shift some of the strain on the city’s 311 call center to a mobile app. Moore and Forsyth also spent time at Stone Soup Community, a local resource that helps people struggling with poverty, to get a better sense for how the app could be most useful to the South Bend population.
Moore and Forsyth were one of nearly 90 teams that submitted ideas for apps around the themes of “heal,” “unify” and “enlighten,” words espoused by Rev. John I. Jenkins C.S.C., during an address to campus in 2011.

After advancing to the second round of the challenge in October, they received one-on-one coaching from experts in user interfaces, information security and technical feasibility. They also created an “app blueprint” that contained all the 
details on how the app should look and operate.
The team was one of four chosen to advance to Round 3. Moore and Forsyth were then paired with student developers Erin Flynn and Ben Kennel, both undergraduates majoring in computer science.

Flynn and Kennel worked with Moore and Forsyth to bring South Bend City Connect to life as a functioning Android app. While the other three apps in Round 3 were built for iOS devices like the iPhone, Moore and Forsyth recognized that most of the potential users of South Bend City Connect use Android devices. They are now working with the City of South Bend to pilot the app this summer.

“South Bend City Connect integrates financial education, low-cost banking resources and electronic utility payments in a powerful tool to aid in the transition to self-sufficiency,” Moore said in an interview with The Observer. “We see South Bend City Connect as a powerful tool that aligns with the Notre Dame vision.”

Each of the four teams that advanced to Round 3 took home awards for their apps.

What’s Up Doc is a mental health app that engages patients with daily surveys on their phone and plots trends over time to share with a
doctor. The team that created 
this app took second place and 
received $2,000.

ZEBRA is an app that facilitates community building among those affected by (and working to treat and cure) rare diseases. Its creators won third place and received $1,000.

The fourth-place team created an app called Budget Books, and it facilitates book rental for students receiving financial aid. This team received $500.

“I’m incredibly proud not only of Miriam and Robbin for creating an app that can truly serve and improve the lives of our neighbors, but each of the teams for creating apps that addressed a true need in the world,” says Matt Willmore, mobileND program manager in the Office of Information Technologies. “I’m equally proud of each of the student developers. Each app created is reflective of both talent and consideration for the apps’ respective audiences. This Challenge showcased the depth of talent present at Notre Dame, and everyone involved should be intensely proud of what they created.”

Each app was built so that development can continue beyond the competition; indeed, some teams have already sought to engage student developers to continue work. To provide the greatest flexibility for each team in the future, the App Challenge organizers also worked with the Office of Technology Transfer to ensure student teams retained all intellectual property rights.

The App Challenge was sponsored by the Office of Executive Vice President, and jointly coordinated by software company SAP, Innovation Park at Notre Dame and the Office of Information Technologies.

Photo caption: Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves, Miriam Moore, Robbin Forsyth and Don Ginocchio from software company SAP.