Upper School Student Group Leads at VCU HealthHacks

The VCU news article said “Although the competition was only for college students, a high school team from The Steward School in Richmond, Va., participated — and would have won had they been eligible. Their adviser was Shane Diller, a 2014 biomedical engineering graduate from VCU.”

Steward juniors Matthew Cantor, Callen Smith, and Cameron Jarvandi, and sophomore George Goldstein led the pack in the design challenge at VCU’s HealthHacks because of their previous training in design thinking.

“Steward’s modern knowledge curriculum prepared our team to successfully assess the challenge, research, ideate, and improve as we moved through the process,” Mr. Diller said.

This is the third year VCU has hosted HealthHacks, which is structured similarly to a traditional “hackathon.” The focus was on solving unmet medical needs through any means, from programming to rapid prototyping or developing flow processes. The theme this year was “Assistive Technology and Prosthetics.”

This is also the third year that Mr. Diller and students have participated, but the first time they actually stayed overnight in the VCU engineering building with the other HealthHacks participants. And this time was obviously well spent!

“We met at 9 a.m. on Saturday and went home at 4 p.m. on Sunday,” Mr. Diller beamed. “It was a long night but it felt like it rushed by. We were so focused, we just slept on the floor by the computers when we needed a break. I was so excited by our win that I could barely even sleep Sunday night!”

Cameron added: “Everyone in our group contained a different skill set, which meshed very well together, and our ability to have fun while working diligently led to our overall success. When stress began to rise we would take a break and then get food. Returning to previous problems after a meal caused the flow of solutions.”

This dedication and determination guided the group as they designed a medication dispenser that assists elderly patients who have multiple prescriptions and hand-strength challenges. This challenge was put forth by OpenEMR, an organization dedicated to making healthcare more accessible and open source.

The four-part product was made on a 3D printer, making it highly customizable to each patient. It also utilizes a device called a Circuit Playground, made by Adafruit Industries and used to teach coding in some Upper School classes. The students programmed this device to allow the user to choose how often to set off an alarm for their medications, and even the color of flashing lights. While many devices on the market already have this technology, their design includes technology for both verification (the alarm will turn off when the device is tilted to dispense the medication) and notification (the students wrote code to send a text message to a caregiver if it had been over 30 minutes since the alarm went off).

Watch a video featuring a 3D model of their product here.

All four students have previously participated in Mr. Diller’s MiniMester Entrepreneurship program, so they were comfortable working together to solve both business and people-focused challenges.

“I thought that we worked well as a team,” Matthew said. “We had a lot of trouble finding our unique angle, since we found a lot of objects similar to ours in our research, but that allowed us to focus on what makes our product different. We did have problems, like accidentally deleting the code, not having the right Arduino shield, and having to figure out what made us different, but in the end it all worked out, and I am looking forward to whatever we do next.”

Mr. Diller explained that the students were very thorough in both the design process and the business case, which they learned to prioritize in projects they’ve previously done together. “The judges [VCU professors] were impressed that our students had estimated a product cost, had a realistic solution for how to reduce material cost from $80 to $35 by self-developing the circuit board, and had also solved for usage challenges by designing two ways to open the device,” Mr. Diller said.

The students have automatically been accepted into an open accelerator program for their product at VCU, and will continue to work with organizations such as OpenEMR and the department of Veterans Affairs to create more assistive device solutions.





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