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Rochester students create prize-winning mental health app

RPS girls at MNCup competition.
From right to left: Sarah Bulur, Anjali Donthi, Caitlin McWilliams, Kylie Meng-lin and Uma Ashrani. 

ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) — Five Rochester students are working to make a difference in their community and raise awareness for mental health by creating and coding an app.

The young women, all juniors at either Century High School or Mayo High School, competed in the Minnesota Cup business startup competition in the youth division in September and placed third, receiving $2,500 in prize money. The competition was held by the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.

The team’s name, Sh.A.U.C.K, is an acronym for all the members’ names: Sarah Bulur, Anjali Donthi, Uma Ashrani, Caitlin McWilliams and Kylie Meng-lin. 

“We were so excited as a team because we worked really hard in the whole process trying to get far,” Anjali Donthi said. “We really wanted to make this app a real thing that users can use and get some amount of help from.”

The “DiscoverMe” app is modeled after existing mental health applications, but with unique features designed to improve users’ experiences. The app includes features to facilitate meditation, soothing music, lifestyle and mood trackers and a journal feature with animations, Anjali said

For example, if a user writes a journal entry about a bad day, they can click on the “burn button” and their whole entry will go up in virtual flames. Anjali said that while the journal entry is still available in the archives if they want to find it, it won’t be immediately visible. This allows users to focus on the positives in their life, rather than the negatives and also gives them a chance to grow.

“If you’re stuck in your bad moments, you can’t really enjoy the good ones,” Anjali said.

Another unique feature of “DiscoverMe” is that it’s designed to help connect users to local mental health resources. It’s available at the Google Play Store.

Anjali said she has had experience with technology and coding growing up, as her parents got her involved with coding from a young age.

“When I first joined coding classes when I was little, I did notice it was mainly a majority of boys,” she said, adding that at the time she felt like the odd one out.

However, Anjali said joining Technovation, a group that helps young women join computer science and technology fields, she said she began enjoying it more.

According to Rich Bogovich, Anjali’s Technovation mentor, in the 1980s about 36 percent of Computer Science graduates were women. By 2015, that gap actually widened and only about 18 percent of Computer Science graduates were women, Bogovich said.

“When it was clear that that trend was going the wrong direction, [Technovation] was created to encourage girls to join that field,” Bogovich said.

The organization was founded in 2006 with its first program opening in California. Technovation has been in Rochester since 2014-2015 school year. 

Anjali said she was happy to see people taking steps to get girls involved in technology and science.

“That’s kind of my goal,” she said. “To get more girls involved in computer science and technology and follow their passions.”

Bogovich also mentored the group for the Minnesota Cup.

“It was very exciting, of course, to be involved,” Bogovich said. “I tell everybody it was the easiest team I ever had to mentor.” 

He said the girls’ command of technical language and professionalism throughout their presentation showed their maturity.

“If you didn’t know them, you wouldn’t necessarily be able to know they were students and not adult professionals who had been in the field for 12 years,” Bogovich said.

As the team continues to work to improve the app, Anjali said she hopes the app will raise awareness about mental health issues among young people.

“I hope that people understand that we need to start educating people from an earlier age and help people seek the support the help they need,” Anjali said. “And know that they’re not alone and there’s so many people facing the same things they are.”

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Nicole Valinote

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