Two O’Neill master’s students, Natali Jouzi and Mackenzie Nworah, recently teamed up to compete in a health-themed hackathon through Stonybrook University. After a fun but grueling 24 hours of coding workshops and competition, they earned the title of “Best Beginner Hack” for their website application aimed at healthcare workers who focus on nutrition.
Jouzi and Nworah met for the first time during orientation for IU’s Master of Science in Health Management (MSHM) program. Though they’d only known each other for a few months and neither had much experience with coding, they decided to pair up to enter HackHealth. Their four-person team included two members from Iowa State University who had backgrounds in computer engineering and human-computer interaction. Together, they figured out how best to leverage their individual strengths to contribute to their project.
“We were able to apply many of the skills we’ve been learning about in the MSHM program, like presentation skills, project management skills, and team management,” said Nworah. “We had just studied some FranklinCovey collaboration and teamwork principles, so we incorporated those, which really set us apart and enabled us to work cohesively together as a team.”
Hackathons are generally 24-hour long events, where participants learn about and practice coding skills and compete to build web applications. They notoriously include all-nighters, but both Jouzi and Nworah insist they made time to sleep. “Our MSHM program includes a focus on self-care, so I was sure to sleep a bit. I knew that in order to focus and present our project well, I’d need to take care of myself,” said Jouzi.
Their winning project, “International Food Guide for Health Professionals,” was a website application intended to help dietitians, diabetes educators, gastroenterologists, and other healthcare workers give better dietary recommendations to their patients.
Before joining the MSHM program, Jouzi was a registered dietitian. She witnessed firsthand how a lack of cultural competency could impact patient care. “Many patients’ needs were not fulfilled because their prescribed diet did not reflect their current diet,” said Jouzi. “Our goal with this project was to enhance healthcare professionals’ knowledge about things like eating practices, traditional dishes, cooking methods, and food taboos from around the world. They can consult this resource to say ‘If a patient is from X country, what are the implications for their diet?’”
In the future, they’d like to modify their app so it can be used to inform things like hospital menus or even travelers who want to experience traditional dishes. But first, they have a degree to finish.
“Participating in this hackathon reminded me that there are many different directions I can go with health management,” said Jouzi. “I’m discovering different fields, like healthcare IT, data analytics – lots of new opportunities for me to find out where my passion is.”
Nworah agreed. “I got way more out of this competition than I was expecting. I got to experience working on the back end with coding and the technological side of health care. I also had the opportunity to build connections. I met people with different backgrounds and added them on LinkedIn. You never know how those connections can expand in the future.”