As part of Research weeks (March 17-April 29), we highlight some of the remarkable research done by undergraduate students at VCU. Research weeks feature a wide variety of projects in multiple disciplines from across the university.
Software development is a difficult process. Over time, bugs need to be ironed out in order for the interface to work properly for users.
Jeffrey Duah, a computer science student at Virginia Commonwealth University’s College of Engineering, had the opportunity to experience this iterative process first-hand on several projects through VCU’s Isosceles lab. Elizabeth Baker, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Information Systems, founded the lab, which focuses on healthcare information technology, in 2020.
Duah has worked on several projects in the lab, most recently creating a medical software application that helps an underserved population. Duah refined the platform through user testing.
The idea for the app came from Bethany Cosgrove, a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Nursing. Cosgrove approached Baker about a project for his thesis. Baker said it’s not uncommon for PhD students to work with a lab like hers when the project involves the development of mobile technology, and she agreed to take it on because the project aligned with the mission of the laboratory.
“We wanted to build technology that encourages patients to learn about their family’s health so they can work more effectively with their healthcare professionals,” Baker said.
Cosgrove observed that families who have children with Down syndrome often see multiple medical providers given their children’s complicated medical histories. Families may struggle to keep up with doctors, medical records and appointments. Cosgrove thought a specially designed app would be helpful for families.
“The idea was to create something that could help alleviate those issues of having to keep track of all that information,” Duah said. “Sometimes it can be overwhelming. We are aiming for all means to alleviate this pain. »
Last summer, Duah and a team of computer science students worked with Cosgrove and built the app to his specifications. In the fall, they started user testing. Cosgrove focused on testing the app’s functionality with families, while Duah and others in the lab did general usability testing, making sure there were no problems and that the platform was navigable.
“We wanted to get a sense of how well the systems were integrated and how well the app was received by users,” Duah said. “We wanted to know if it was a usable thing and what we could do to improve usability.”
Duah said he really enjoyed the process and learned a lot. He has built a product that has the potential to benefit families with special needs children. This experience also helped him land a job at a software consulting firm after graduating in May.
Duah, who received an undergraduate research grant and creative grant to work on the app for Down syndrome carers, said he was originally looking for a job when he contacted the lab. . He did not know that VCU offered undergraduate research opportunities.
Duah started working in the lab in the fall of 2020, and her initial project was an app for healthcare workers to help them communicate during a crisis.
“It was for an emergency so they could contact each other quickly,” Duah said.
Duah enjoys creating new technologies that help people and is grateful for the opportunities provided by the VCU Lab. He’s proud of the work he’s done on the app for Down Syndrome caregivers.
“It was great to develop something and help these families better coordinate their care,” he said.
Duah enjoyed the research experience and encouraged students to take advantage of opportunities at VCU by asking around and finding ways to gain experience in their major. He feels lucky to have been able to connect with Baker and the lab.
“It was pretty cool. Computing is a field where you can create new things that help people. »
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