A group of Central Lakes College Mobile Application Development students are one of ten finalists in the nation for the fourth annual Community College Innovation Challenge (CCIC), sponsored by The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).
The national contest challenged community college students to use science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to find innovative solutions to real-world problems. The group of CLC Mobile Application Development students, along with instructor Sam Espana, created an app called Supporting Our Servicemembers (SOS). The app helps active military and veterans’ families cope with stress, especially during a time of crisis. Through the touch of a button, a veteran in crisis can instantly connect with several trusted family and friends at once, who can help prevent suicide or bodily harm.
“I joined the development team for the National Science Foundation project because a program like ours is needed,” said Rick Vinje, CLC student and active National Guard member. “I personally, and several members of my company, have lost friends to suicide. We always think, ‘What could we have done?’ and I believe this project will fill a gap in the current available services. We’re not trying to supplant any of the existing programs, but integrate with and extend the capabilities of these programs utilizing the features of current technologies. If this program saves even one life, it is worth every bit of time and effort we put into it.”
According to the team’s research, about 20 veterans commit suicide every day in the United States. Unfortunately, many of them suffer from stress, depression, and PTSD, among other behavioral needs. When veterans experience suicidal thoughts, current government services are not necessarily the type of help veterans need, according to their research.
“By providing a connection to the people that have an emotional investment into the veteran’s life and are impacted at the highest levels by the veterans actions, the SOS application gives the veteran a sense that the person on the phone is not punching a time clock to listen to them, but are genuinely concerned about them,” said Matt Boyer, CLC student and National Guard veteran. “The veteran and their family members set their contacts so if it’s a spouse or even a battle buddy, the veteran knows that person will be able to understand the struggles they are facing.”
Espana, the Mobile Application Development and Computer Technology instructor at CLC, said it was an honor for he and his students to participate in the 2018 NSF-CCIC challenge.
“It is humbling for us to develop an app, especially with active military and veterans participating in our team,” he said. “The project will leverage mobile technology to help active military as well as veterans’ families cope with stress, especially during a time of crisis. I am truly delighted that the NSF selected our project as one of the top 10 in the nation.”
The CLC team, along with the other finalists, will participate in an Innovation Boot Camp in Virginia in June. On the last day of the Innovation Boot Camp, all finalists are scheduled to present their projects before congressmen at Capitol Hill in Washington DC. Finally, the top two projects will be chosen, with first place winning $1,500 and second winning $1,200.
CLC student team members include: Rick Vinje (U.S. National Guard), Patrick Hofmann, Matt Boyer (Veteran), Austin Clark, Sam Espana (Faculty Mentor), Tom Bonar (Veteran), Jeff Roxberg (Veteran).