Last weekend, Cornell Minds Matter and project team Design & Tech Initiative collaborated to host a hackathon alternative that focused on tackling mental health and wellness issues and looking at solutions through a tech perspective.
The Mental Health Make-a-thon aimed to “create an ‘anti-hackathon’ centered around solving problems in the mental health space with design and technology,” DTI co-lead Matt Barker ’19 told The Sun.
“We felt the campus needed an event like this to unwind and de-stress, but still learn something new and build something cool,” Barker said. “Mental health is an important issue for sure, but we really felt that we could put a unique spin on raising awareness for the issue through a new platform.”
Working with an engineering project team, Cornell Minds Matter also hoped to address the specific issues directly influencing STEM students.
“Engineering culture glamorizes credit overloading, sacrificing sleep and non-stop work. Mental health is not a priority for many students,” said Vy Nguyen ’21, vice president of events for Cornell Minds Matter.
According to data from a 2017 Cornell PULSE survey, nearly 43 percent of students surveyed were “unable to function academically for at least a week due to depression, stress or anxiety” within the past year.
“I think we were able to give participants a better understanding of mental health but also provide them with the technical skills needed to implement a solution,” Nguyen said. “I think we succeeded in finding a nice balance of both.”
The Make-a-thon’s activities focused on how to build a relaxing environment, including a presentation called “Let’s CU Sleep,” care package distribution, meditation and yoga, or even playing with dogs and bamboo planting.
Additionally, students worked to come up with solutions to mental health issues using design and technology over the two days. The event featured a presentation on technological solutions to mental health issues, a tech startup talk by Basis Tech and workshops on design processes to teach participants the basics of creating online platforms.
The Best Solution award at the Make-a-thon was given to Yanis Park ’20, Michelle Cho ’20 and Rachel Lee ’20, who created Explor, a digital platform that blended the concepts of Yelp and Pokémon Go intending to encourage discovery and travel as a coping mechanism for mental health.
“The Mental Health Make-a-thon was such a unique spin on Cornell’s typical stress-filled and competitive hackathon culture,” said Rebecca Fu ’21, DTI business team member. “I had fun meeting and collaborating with students from all different places and majors, including an M.Eng. student from Germany.”
Although this was the first year of the Mental Health Make-a-thon, leaders of both DTI and Minds Matter are hoping to make it an annual event.
“The most rewarding aspect was seeing groups tie in what they learned about technology over these past two days to their mental health solutions,” said Gleni Kodra ’19, DTI business lead. “Everyone came up with amazing ideas to help the Ithaca and Cornell communities manage and improve their Mental Health.”