A team of six Virginia Tech students took the $5,000 top prize in the inaugural Caring for the Caregiver Intercollegiate Hack, a competition to draw attention to the issue of caregiver health and wellness in the commonwealth.

The Hack, held last month in Richmond, challenged interdisciplinary teams to create tools such as apps, devices for the home, wearable devices, or interactive Web experiences to ensure the health and improve the lives of family caregivers.

Virginia Tech competed against teams from George Mason University, James Madison University, Lynchburg College, College of William & Mary, University of Virginia, and Virginia Commonwealth University.

Each team had a 25 ½-hour time frame to create a realistic, usable app or product designed to positively affect caregiver health. A family caregiver was paired with each team to help the students to understand the challenges and struggles faced.

The Virginia Tech team’s winning creation was Carefood, an online platform connecting caregivers to share a virtual dinner table and community to share recipes, access customized shopping lists, and plan meals based on the nutritional needs and dietary restrictions of themselves and the care recipient.

“The hackathon’s focus on the health and well being of family caregivers presented the students with a complex social issue,” noted Karen Roberto, University Distinguished Professor and director of the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech. “It required the insights of our students in the social and human sciences in collaboration with those with technical expertise and skills as well as business prowess to create an innovative app that could have a positive impact on the daily lives of caregivers and, in turn, the older adults for whom they provide significant assistance and support.” 

Each team keeps ownership of its idea, said Adrienne M. Johnson, executive director of SeniorNavigator, a statewide public-private partnership nonprofit organization that connects seniors, caregivers, and their families with information and community programs. SeniorNavigator and its Lindsay Institute for Innovations in Caregiving will offer the winning team help to develop a business plan and seek funding opportunities, Johnson said.

Yujun Liu, a graduate student in adult development and aging in the Department of Human Development, served as team leader.  Liu recruited undergraduates and graduates from across the university, organized team meetings, and managed event logistics.

“As the gerontology expert in the group, Yujun provided the others with readings and insights about the needs and concerns of family caregivers,” Roberto said.

Deborah Tatar, an associate professor in the computer science department, was the adviser and coach for the Virginia Tech team.

Student members were:

  • Junyang Chen, Peng Mi, and Maoyuan Sun, all doctoral students in computer science, College of Engineering;
  • Ross Ritsch, from Reston, Virginia, an undergraduate in the University Studies Program; and
  • Yue Song, a doctoral candidate in management in the Pamplin College of Business.

Sponsors of the two-day event included AARP Thought Leadership, Capital One, Friendship Retirement Community, and Troutman Sanders LLP.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

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