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UW-Green Bay Students Create Products To Improve Quality Of Life For Older Adults

Event Will Take Place Virtually Feb. 25

UW-Green Bay engineering student Denny Christoff presents during the 2020 Innovation in Aging competition
UW-Green Bay engineering student Denny Christoff presents during the 2020 Innovation in Aging competition. His team won first place for its invention of a smart hearing aid. Photo courtesy of Daniel Moore, UW-Green Bay Marketing and University Communication

For the fifth straight year, students at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay are competing in the WiSys Innovation in Aging Student Idea Competition to come up with products, campaigns and solutions to help improve quality of life for older adults.

Susan Gallagher-Lepak is a founder of the competition and is dean of the College of Health, Education and Social Welfare at UW-Green Bay. Gallagher-Lepak said she drew her inspiration for the competition from a similar one at the Stanford University Longevity Center.

Gallagher-Lepak said she and a colleague from Norway — a country well-known for its sophisticated and innovative aging programs — locked onto the idea about five years ago. Students involved are asked to come up with solutions that aim to better serve the older adult population. That could mean improving on solutions that already exist or coming up with brand-new ideas.

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An original sketch of the G-Pods — an idea created by a team for the Innovation in Aging competition at UW-Green Bay. Photo courtesy of Denny Christoff

Denny Christoff is one of the students who participated in last year’s event. His team created “G-Pods” — a type of smart hearing aid that could detect falls, track activity and call 911 if it detected an emergency, Christoff said. His team printed 3D models of the G-Pods and handed them to judges at the competition.The team won the top prize of $1,000.

“Winning the competition meant a lot because the team decided that we were going to donate the prize money to the Engineering Club for future projects,” said Christoff, a mechanical engineering student at UW-Green Bay.

Another team awarded the second-place prize of $500 came up with the idea of an easy-to-use social media application that helps older adults connect with loved ones.

“We really think that it helps train students to improve their skills in problem solving, idea development (and) communication of their ideas,” Gallagher-Lepak said.

Gallagher-Lepak said some teams continue to work with organizations like WiSys to further develop their ideas and enter other competitions such as the Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament, for which the Innovation in Aging competition is a qualifier.

WiSys is a nonprofit organization based in Madison that often works with students at UW System campuses to develop innovative ideas and sponsor entrepreneurship. They’re available to help students, for example, with consultations and patent protections.

Gallagher-Lepak expects this year’s competitors to offer up ideas relating to the pandemic — especially social distancing and communicating safely.

Typically, the competition draws about nine teams of two to five people each, though this year students are allowed to work alone. That hasn’t been done in the past but is an option because of the challenges posed by the pandemic of bringing people together.

An array of disciplines is represented in the competition, Gallagher-Lepak said, noting that participants have included students from computer science, engineering, human biology, psychology, accounting and design arts.

The competition runs from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25 and will be held virtually this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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