New grad’s health app wins $10,000 first-place prize in state contest
Looking for a nearby hospital, clinic or cooling center?
Melissa Buenger has an app for that.
Buenger, who graduated May 8 with a master’s degree in public health, is receiving accolades for HealthNear.Me app, which provides health resources near the user’s location in an easy-to-understand interface.
She and her fiancé, Chris Gansen, worked together to create the app, which won the first-place $10,000 prize in the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Datapalooza App Challenge.
The contest was sponsored by the Department of Public Health, Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
“I wanted to see a more centralized way to help the citizens of Chicago,” Buenger said.
“Everything was very scattered before — through this app people can find what they need fast and near them.”
The app aggregates information from the State of Illinois Data Portal and includes hospitals, community service centers, mental health clinics, cooling centers, warming centers, senior centers and clinics that treat substance abuse and sexually transmitted diseases.
It is designed to work on smartphones, tablets and desktop computers.
Buenger developed HealthNear.Me with Gansen, who works for the Smart Chicago Collaborative, a tech startup dedicated to improving life in Chicago through technology.
“Working on this project was so gratifying. I hope more public health students will get involved with the technology sector and make contributions to the city,” she said. “It would be great to see more students actively pursuing opportunities to bridge the two fields.”
Buenger hopes the app becomes a national initiative.
“People from all across the country are trying to model the project and implement it in their own communities,” she said.