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Device to Facilitate Social Connections Among Students Wins Jackson Award

Nov 30, 2020

A team of Dartmouth engineering undergraduates who built a system to foster spontaneous connections among students earned Fall term's Phillip R. Jackson Award for best overall performance in ENGS 21: Introduction to Engineering.

The members of the winning team are: Derek Lue ’21, Brady McCallister ’21, Zoe Schwartzman ’21, and Sunaina Sekaran ’22. The Team’s TA was Ellie Baker ’22 and their instructor was Myles Duncanson, a technical instructor in Thayer’s Machine Shop.

“They worked really well together, and came up with many solutions to the technical issues they encountered. I was especially impressed by their testing and research,” said Duncanson.

The system, HangNow, includes a physical box that students can turn to when they have unexpected free time and want company right away. The device has buttons with four options — hang now, walk now, study now, and food now — that connects students via text message. Users receive the names of people who have pressed the same button around the same time, as well as their phone numbers, in order to quickly and easily connect with others who are simultaneously available.

“The product was built to encourage meaningful connection in the age of COVID, and we’re passionate about the prospect of bringing these spontaneous, chance interactions to the ’24 class,” the winning team reported in their project video, noting that they specifically designed the system with college first-years in mind.

“Group 6 worked phenomenally well together. They came up with clever ways to interact with users and test their many prototypes,” said Dartmouth engineering professor Vicki May. “They delivered high quality and creative presentations and prototypes throughout the term.”

Many of the projects this term focused on problems that have cropped up since the pandemic began, such as a mask disinfecting system, a transparent mask that regulates humidity and temperature, and a Halloween candy dispenser that promotes social distancing and safety. See all the projects here.

The Jackson Award, named after and established by the former Thayer Board of Advisors member, is given each quarter by a review board which applies the following criteria:
• Societal importance of the selected problem
• User-centric design considerations
• Sophistication of the design and degree of difficulty
• Functionality of the prototype, its documentation and testing
• Holistic approach to the engineering design process
• Consistent outstanding performance on both written and oral milestones