A team of Ohio State students and faculty traveled to Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. on Jan. 21 to begin developing a mental wellness app. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Ohio State’s Digital Flagship initiative is taking steps toward the development of a mental wellness app, with the latest step being a trip to Apple headquarters.

A group of campus representatives traveled to Cupertino, California, on Jan. 21 to kick off the development of an Ohio State resource-specific mental wellness app. The creation of a wellness app meets the recommendations from President Michael Drake’s Suicide and Mental Health Task Force, which was created to make improvements to Ohio State’s mental health resources.

The representatives took part in a three-day Apple development process. Emilie Meade, a developer for the Ohio State mobile app team, said the process consisted of identifying the challenges students face, mapping how students would use the app, developing a sketch with feedback sessions and converting ideas to become the framework of an app.

“We actually get to go into the design room with the Apple designers, and we kind of work closely with them to decide what the functionality is going to be and how it’s going to work,” Meade said.

The team left Cupertino with a blueprint of the app for the Ohio State mobile app team to build on.

Meade said she expects the developing app to change as the team gathers feedback from different student groups, with a focus on making sure the app is in the students’ “own language.”

The proximity to campus makes it much easier to incorporate student feedback, Meade said, and allows for more control over the development.

Although Apple guided the team through the brainstorming process, Meade said that from here, Ohio State’s app team is in the driver’s seat.

“We’re not afraid to change it,” Meade said. “So much of it when we’re out there in Cupertino is theoretical and it’s design.”

Jessica Phillips, associate director for student experience for Digital Flagship, was in charge of assembling the team and preparing them for the three-day process. In total, Phillips said six students, two Digital Flagship representatives and four university administrators who were subject-matter experts attended.

She said the students invited on the trip included one who had helped a friend navigate mental health resources, a student who had used resources themselves, a regional campus student, a first-generation college student, an LGBTQ advocate and a graduate student.

“We spoke with some of the university leaders and administrators who were selected to join and just kind of asked them, based on the Suicide and Mental Health Task Force findings, if there were particular students that would be really critically important to have a voice at the table,” Phillips said.

Although not every student experience was represented on the trip, Phillips said that feedback on future developments aims to include more groups, and that the students played a major role in contributing to the initial design.

“We had other university leaders and subject-matter experts there as well who were able to contribute at key points,” Philips said. “But for the most part, it was just the students who were sharing both their experience and their feedback.”

Shamina Merchant, president of Undergraduate Student Government and member of the mental health task force, was one of the students who attended and said the app will be designed with the student user experience in mind.

“We wanted to make it as easy as possible to navigate that experience and to understand and educate students on what problems they were facing and how they could best seek help,” Merchant said.

Merchant said that by giving everyone access to resources, she hopes that campus will move toward breaking the stigma surrounding mental health and increasing the equality of its availability.

Although there is no timeline for the app’s development and completion, Phillips said she believes the app will be directly downloaded on university-provided iPads in the future.

Phillips said that whatever the app ends up looking like, it will play a “key part” in welcoming new students to Ohio State each year.

“It’ll be embedded and integrated into their orientation experience through their technology, through their iPad,” she said.