During the first semester of my freshman year at ASU, I heard about the EPICS program. EPICS, or Engineering Projects in Community Service, is a service-learning experience in which students work to solve engineering problems through partnership with not-for-profit organizations. I began my journey with EPICS during the second semester of that same year, enrolling in EPICS Gold I (FSE 194). For the next year and a half I pursued a health based EPICS project, which came to be known as FitStart Kids. The idea for FitStart Kids originated from a loose project theme of childhood obesity solutions proposed by the Mayo Clinic. With over 24 million obese or overweight children in America and a generation of youth growing up tech-absorbed and sedentary, spending an average of 8 hours per day in front of a screen, childhood obesity is a problem that needs to be addressed now, before it is too late. Left with little direction or guidance, we formed a student team and began to brainstorm.
Over the course of that first semester, I served as Project Lead for our team of four interdisciplinary engineering students. We outlined the foundation for FitStart Kids and crafted the idea of a youth mentorship program to encourage increased physical activity among school children. Throughout the next year I continued to develop FitStart Kids. I completed an additional two semesters of EPICS (FSE 494) for a total of three consecutive terms. During this year and a half, my team constantly changed along with our idea and project. I learned very valuable skills on how to quickly and efficiently on-board new team members and create cohesion and unity despite change and upheaval. At the end of those three semesters, the FitStart program of my freshman year had undergone many iterations, pivots, and developments.
The below picture is of our EPICS team hosting an event
for kids who attended ASU Discovery Day.
What originated as a simple mentorship program had transformed to a technology-based platform aimed at encouraging physical activity through gamification. FitStart Kids came to embody a unique healthy living program that combined the wearable activity monitoring device of the FitBit with mentorship, education, and gamification to provide a platform for children struggling with obesity to adopt a healthy mindset and get off the couch. Stemming from our engineering background, our belief was that we could utilize technology, often the reason for hours spent sitting in front of a screen, and instead use it as the catalyst to get kids moving. Our goal was not that children live healthier for the length of our 16 week program, but rather to change the underlying mentality and decision making process behind daily health choices for the rest of their lives. By instilling a sense of awareness early on, FitStart Kids aimed to help youth take their first steps towards a healthy life.
Our team ran an obstacle course to promote physical
activity for kids at ASU's Discovery Day.
My humble beginnings in EPICS paved the route for what would soon become a full-fledged entrepreneurial endeavor. Without the EPICS platform to explore service-learning, I would not have begun my path of social entrepreneurship. As is one of the key pillars of the Grand Challenge Program, EPICS encourages innovative thought processing to engineer solutions to some of our community’s most pressing problems. I learned early on in my college career the power to think, explore, design, and problem solve under the mindset of an engineer and innovator.