Published on in Community Impact Report
iSTEM, an employee resource group (ERG) at CHOP, is dedicated to inclusion in the hospital’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workforce. One aspect of the ERG’s mission is to provide mentorship and educational opportunities for underrepresented populations in the communities surrounding the hospital. FirstHand — a CHOP-supported educational initiative at University City Science Center —provided the perfect opportunity for iSTEM programmers and developers to lend their expertise.
A nationally recognized STEM-focused program serving students from underresourced schools, FirstHand engages students in creative, hands-on learning in hopes of sparking interest in STEM-related fields. When a team of iSTEM volunteers collaborated with FirstHand program managers to develop a health-focused programming curriculum, Health Hackers was born.
Initially a pilot program, Health Hackers is a 10-week curriculum that integrates health and wellness with interactive programming, application design and physical computing.
At the beginning of the program, each student team is given a profile of a child their age with a medical condition. The profile describes the child’s condition and provides insight into their daily life. FirstHand students are then tasked with prototyping a device that might help that child navigate their mental and physical needs. One team, for example, designed a special water bottle — complete with medication compartment and reminder function — for a child with migraines.
Over the course of 10 weeks, iSTEM mentors taught the students the skills needed to develop their prototypes into real applications, games and interactive tools, which were then presented at a final showcase.
Donna Vito, Outreach Manager at CHOP and communications lead for iSTEM, believes that Health Hackers creates a pathway for students to pursue STEM-related interests. “These kids get it,” she says. “It’s assimilated into their lives. Learning new ways to use technology added to the knowledge they already had.”
In addition to preparing FirstHand students for 21st century jobs and helping to cultivate peer-to-peer empathy, this community service project provided an opportunity for iSTEM mentors to reconnect with CHOP’s mission.
Joe Mirizio, a clinical data developer at CHOP and community outreach lead for iSTEM, says, “Working with these students week after week and watching them develop their skills encouraged us to want to be there to see what they’ll do with the knowledge we gave them.”
Ultimately, Mirizio hopes that Health Hackers mentees will remember the skills they learned as they consider future educational and career paths.
FirstHand is now offering multiple sessions of Health Hackers, and the iSTEM mentors plan to continue their collaboration through support with final project development.