Nature sounds, a box of Nature Valley granola bars, sleeping bags and empty cans of Fanta occupied group study room 225 in Education Commons over the weekend. It wasn’t being used by Penn students trying to get ahead in their syllabi — but rather by four high school students who participated in PennApps Winter this past weekend.
The team, made up of high school senior Rohan Shah of Pennsylvania — a future member of Penn’s Class of 2019 — and high school juniors James Harnett of New Jersey, Krish Dholakiya of Colorado and Isaiah Turner of Maryland, competed in the health hack with their app “Helix,” an app designed to streamline the directions patients receive from their doctors. The app won best overall health hack and best consumer health hack.
After a visit to the doctor, patients can enter a code in Helix to receive step-by-step follow-up instructions and reminders. The app’s features include a partnership with Postmates for prescription delivery and the ability for patients to send videos to their physicians. The app also coordinates with wearable technology devices to send health data to the user and doctor in real time.
Despite being in high school, the students have a wide variety of experience at hackathons. Harnett has attended 16 hackathons, Dholakiya was an organizer at Code Day Colorado, Shah was the first high school student to be a PennApps fellow and Turner was one of 200 winners of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference Student Scholarship. Although the team is precocious, the students are very much high school students. While coding, they wanted to watch “The Interview,” but thought better of it due to the glass walls in their GSR. Instead, the team opted for “22 Jump Street.”
The students gave their tips for making it through PennApps.
“The trick is to get one full night of sleep, so you can pull an all-nighter ... I’ll probably crash on the train ride home,” Harnett said. He added as an afterthought, “I’ll probably miss my stop.”
Turner was especially grateful for the free Insomnia Cookies throughout the event, but for Shah, the huge group hug they shared was key. “It was solid bonding,” he added sarcastically, “Isaiah loved it.”
Team Helix made sure to make the most out of their time in Philadelphia. Their spot in Education Commons afforded them access to the gate to Franklin Field. Harnett explained, “We snuck into the stadium, there’s some really great views of Philadelphia up there.” Turner said that he made sure to take Instagram selfies while there.
While the team shared a group hug on Sunday, their unit didn’t officially form until Friday evening, after PennApps had officially begun. Dholakiya and Shah had met previously at CalHacks in October, a hackathon hosted at the University of California at Berkeley, and had originally planned to work on a different idea they had, until they met the rest of their groupmates.
Turner connected with Dholakiya and Shah through the PennApps Facebook page. The three met Harnett while outside of the Education Commons on Friday night.
“They were talking about this technology that I knew about, so I started chatting with them,” Harnett said on meeting his team for the first time.
“It was very much spur of the moment,” Shah added.
Besides the opportunities for prizes and recognition, a lot of what makes hackathons — especially PennApps — important for the students was the opportunity to meet the friends they had made online in different hacking communities on Facebook.
The students that made up Helix were four out of about 90 total high school students that competed in PennApps, according to PennApps coordinators.
Being in high school didn’t intimidate the team, but rather made them feel more at home. “I love being in an environment where they think the same as you ... you don’t have to dumb yourself down,” Shah said. “You can think big and you can execute on something, and you’re going to have something that’s been taken from concept to fruition in a short matter of time and even build on it after.”
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