Showcasing student talent

Asking students to explore their ideas on what will change the future

Six Concordia students presented unexpected solutions to everyday problems just before Reading Week at the Garnet Key Society’s Forces of Change event, with the winning student going home with $1,000 to help make his vision of a smartwatch app for people with dementia and their caretakers a reality.

The Garnet Key Society bills itself as a voluntary association promoting a positive image of the university. Henry F. Hall, the principal of Sir George Williams College before it merged with Loyola to form Concordia, considered membership as “the highest honour which may be bestowed upon an undergraduate.”

This year’s winner was software engineering student El-Mehdi Beghdadi who presented his winning idea hoping to provide relief from the daily stresses experienced by dementia patients and their caretakers. “The reason that [caregivers] live with a high level of stress is because they are always in a state of uncertainty,” Beghdadi said.

By integrating GPS tracking with reminders, caregivers would receive a notification should their charges wander outside of a pre-set safe zone radius.

Six per cent of all caregivers are caring for someone suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia, according to a 2012 Statistics Canada report. Almost half of all Canadians over the age of 15 have been caregivers at some point in their lives.

Beghdadi underscored the importance of one feature—automatic call answering—with a story he heard from a woman last September at the Toronto/London Dementia Hack.

“[A woman] told me that her father has early-stage dementia and that she had to go on a business trip, and she’s the only one in her family who lives in the same city as her father. … When she arrived at her destination, she called him. He would not answer. She tried again, she called on his cell phone. So she did that for many hours, and because her father smokes, she thought maybe he burnt down the house. So she called the police and he was okay, he was just watching T.V.” he said.

Beghdadi’s application would give caregivers some peace of mind, but it requires the patient keep the watch on. The application uses heart rate sensors that are standard in many smartwatches.

A smartwatch’s price tag might intimidate some caregivers—a Samsung smartwatch can cost over $200. But Beghdadi believes it can be a cost-effective option for caregivers, especially compared to the cost of residential care facilities. “People are taking loans just to be able to put their loved ones in those places,” he said.

While Beghdadi sees many potential applications, he said his first focus is getting the application in app stores and receiving feedback from users.

Other students also presented their innovative solutions to a variety of problems, sometimes using business theory and quantum mechanics to tackle problems often taken for granted. One team proposed introducing large-scale insect farming in Africa to alleviate protein-related malnutrition. Other presentations focused on teleportation and synthetic biology. One presenter introduced a new business model to help companies consider social responsibility and sustainability as well as profitability.

A panel of judges evaluated all the presentations on the idea’s originality and importance, and the students’ ability to inspire the judges and field questions.

While the students were the focus of the night, the event was also an important part of the Garnet Key Society’s mandate. Members of the society serve as student ambassadors for the university, and they must organize a community project every year. Previous projects include speaker series, fundraisers for scholarships and tutoring. This year, Forces of Change served as a fundraiser for the society’s endowment fund and brought alumni, faculty and staff together as judges.

District 3, Concordia’s centre for start-ups, gave pitch training sessions to help students perfect and polish their eight-minute presentations.

“We tried to get everybody from different backgrounds at the university together,” said Dave Oram, current president of the society. “We really wanted to engage as many people at Concordia as possible, and get these students’ ideas known by people who can help them make a difference.”

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