College of Public Health International Students Win National Award for Togetherness Application

A team of College of Public Health international graduate students received a first-place award for their Togetherness application at the 7th-annual Mission: Life competition, hosted at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas.

The Mission: Life competition is an entrepreneur competition that originated at the Pontificia Universidade Catolica Do Parana (PUCPR) in Curitiba, Brazil. The main goal of the competition is to foster innovative ideas and entrepreneurship that addresses real-world problems. This year's topic was Immigration in the 21st Century.

With the support of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Office of Global Education, LaunchNet, and faculty advisors Dr. Edgar Kooijman, J.R. Campbell and Dr. Kendra Lapolla, the team – comprised of Anthony Coetzer-Liversage, Dania Mofleh, Tam Nguyen, and Joud Roufael – addressed obstacles in the process of global immigration in the 21st Century by proposing and developing the Togetherness app.

 Togetherness is an app that serves as a central navigator by combining important resources and life skills into one adaptive, language-tailored, easy-to-use mobile application. The app aims to promote social integration and empowerment to both international students and immigrants. 

Mr. Roufael (Master of Public Health: Health Policy and Management) says the app was designed using evidence-based theory models to create components that would be useful to immigrants and international students. 

“We hope that the application will aid and facilitate an immigrant's integration process to their new community, wherever that may be, and allow them to become the productive members of society who they strive to be,” says Mr. Roufael.

The components of the app include social and community events, health and legal services, a translator, daily life-hacks, cultural norms and other existing resources that would be linked into the application. These categories would be displayed in English with a side-by-side translation to the user's native language of choice, helping them utilize the application while learning more about the native language and culture. 

Ms. Mofleh (Master of Public Health: Epidemiology) says that the ideas for the practical uses of the app were in part due to the personal experiences of the team members. 

“When we began this journey, we wanted to come up with a service that would provide more of what we were offered when we arrived at Kent State University,” Ms. Mofleh says. “We realized as international students that we came across different resources at different times throughout our stay here in Kent. We also learned many life hacks that helped us go through our days, like how to order a simple cup of coffee or how to find a department store or restaurant which had our favorite foods. Therefore, we decided to come up with a hub that would provide all of this information to immigrants to help them better integrate.”

Mr. Coetzer-Liversage (Ph.D., Public Health: Prevention Science) says with the focus on immigration and having such a large body of international students within the College, he was not surprised the team were able to find a solution that would work for them and other immigrants within the US. 

“Integrating into US culture and society was so critical for me to function at my best and to be a productive member of society,” Mr. Coetzer-Liversage says. “This drove me to be involved in this competition, and to find a solution that could be developed and launched to the public.”

Ms. Nguyen (Master of Public Health: Health Policy and Management) says that as a Fulbright scholar from Vietnam, she wanted to create a product that could help immigrants overcome challenges that derive from living in a foreign country.

“I am really grateful to receive many benefits from my scholarship and I have loving friends who have supported me here in many ways,” Ms. Nguyen says. “However, I have witnessed many international students who have struggled a lot since they came here and I have also faced some challenges myself. That is why participating in a competition to create a helping tool for immigrants means a lot to me.”

The students presented their idea to a panel of judges on Nov. 12 at the University of Incarnate Word in San Antonio, TX. After presenting their research findings and idea, the team was awarded first place out of three finalist teams. 

Mr. Roufael says that winning the competition was an especially great feeling for the team because the source material was so personal. 

“Hard work really pays off, and our team was able to do so with great efforts and collaboration, says Mr. Roufael. “Everyone brought something valuable to the table, and our final product proved that.”

The team wishes to thank faculty advisors Dr. Kooijman, Professor Campbell and Dr. Lapolla, as well as Julie Messing and Zachary Mirkut from LaunchNet, for the support they provided to the team.

The Mission: Life competition will be held next year in Brazil, with the topic of mental health.

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POSTED: Tuesday, December 11, 2018 - 11:22am
UPDATED: Tuesday, December 11, 2018 - 11:23am
WRITTEN BY:
Abigail Winternitz