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NIU faculty, students and alumni to share expertise at Huskie Hack

October 30, 2017

Technology applications related to health and wellness are evolving quickly, and NIU faculty, students and alumni are at the forefront of important breakthroughs in the use of technology to promote personal and community wellness, and manage healthcare.

Take, for example, associate professors Jennifer Gray and Jinsook Kim of NIU’s School of Health Studies. In 2015, they won a Broadband Innovation Grant from the NIU Division of Information Technology to create an online palliative care training module for direct-care workers serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Kim and Gray developed the training module and pilot-tested it for effectiveness and feasibility with 132 participants in the summer of 2017. They have also won other grants, including the NIU-based Tri-County Endowment Grant, to expand their project. Currently, they are conducting a needs assessment study with certified nursing assistants (CNAs) serving older adults in long-term care facilities. “With the needs assessment results, we will refine our current online palliative care training, and pilot test the training with 100 CNAs in spring and summer 2018,” says Kim.

Community members will be able to hear more about Gray’s and Kim’s ongoing project at the 2017 Huskie Hack, held from Saturday, Nov. 4 to Sunday, Nov. 5, in the Holmes Student Center. Their presentation is one of seventeen different presentations and hands-on workshops that are free and open to the public as part of this 24+-hour hacking event.

“The annual Huskie Hack is known as a chance for students from junior high through college to stretch their creativity and entrepreneurial skills with team-based hacking challenges,” says Huskie Hack organizer Tracy Rogers-Tryba. “But we’re also very excited to present a full evening of presentations and hands-on workshops that are free and open to the general public, on topics ranging from the digital transformation of healthcare to machine learning, robotics and art, data visualization and even a critical analysis of sex robots.”

NIU alum Jacob Lawrence (Master of Public Administration 2016, B.A. Community Leadership and Civic Engagement 2014) is another Broadband Innovation Grant winner who will be sharing his project at the Hack. In “From Idea to Launch: App Basics 101,” Lawrence will discuss his development of the mobile app “Ki,” which connects users with local “community anchor institutions,” such as hospitals, schools, local governments and police departments. The app is now available for download as Lawrence begins promoting it and conducting A/B testing.

Lawrence, currently the deputy village clerk for the Village of Itasca as well as the founder of the digital marketing agency Zunis Labs, says the app is intended to encourage connections at the local level. “I quickly realized that fundamental change happens at the local level, and I wanted to create a platform to really connect people [to] get people engaged and mobilized at the local level.” At the Huskie Hack, Lawrence will share how he developed the app, in hopes that others will learn how to apply this process. “You don’t have to be the perfect programmer,” he says. “You need to know the basics: focus on what matters and build things that actually have a greater purpose.”

Lisa Kaye Bergeron, director of the Illinois Health Information Technology Regional Extension Center and director of Health and Technology Engagement for the NIU Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development, and David Frumkin, IoT digital business solution architect at CDW, will both address the technology evolution within the healthcare industry in their talks, “Healthcare: The Shift Toward Value-Based Payment Models” (Bergeron) and “Digital Transformation of Healthcare: A Balanced Approach” (Frumkin).

A number of NIU faculty members will share case studies demonstrating how they used patient data to develop healthcare applications, training or policies. These include “My Choice: Navigating Contraception” by NIU Associate Professor of Nursing Cathy Carlson and “Finding Insights and Developing Policies Using Patient Data” by Christine Nguyen of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.

Hands-on, interactive workshops will give participants the chance to script and edit videos, build interactive robots out of cardboard, learn how to locate tumors using a PET scan and more.

Highlights include two interactive workshops by co-presenters Jeffrey Sweeton, a video producer and founder and facilitator of CodeCreate, and Jerry Nwosuocha, an actor, entrepreneur and educator. In “Building Biology, As Public Service PSAs,” they will share examples of PSAs (public service announcements) in multiple formats, discuss script writing across mediums, and end with a hands-on video editing demonstration. In “Building Biology, As Physically Proto-typed Presentations,” participants will be introduced to Cardboard Switching before building and programming their own prototypes in cardboard.

NIU students and faculty members will also present a range of technology topics, including “Machine Learning: The What? The Why? And How to Use Machine Learning to Improve Everyday Life,” “Open Source Solutions” and “Mixing Art and Robotics.”

Joseph Insley, an associate professor at NIU’s School of Art and Design and a visualization scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, and Michael Papka, a professor in the Department of Computer Science and a senior scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, will walk participants through the world of data visualization in “Data: What Is It Good For?”

The Huskie Hack would not be possible without the support of our sponsors: Discover, Syndeo, Oracle, CDK Global, Traditional Medicinals and CDW-G.

The event is hosted by NIU’s Center for P-20 Engagement and the NIU Division of Information Technology.

The Huskie Hack begins at noon on Saturday, Nov. 4. The free presentations and workshops will start at 3:30 p.m. and run throughout the evening. A full schedule of workshops and presentations is available at

No registration is required for community members who wish to attend the presentations and workshops. Free parking is available at the NIU visitor parking lot.

For more information, visit or contact Tracy Rogers-Tryba at 815-753-2090 or [email protected].