Penn State Berks students develop award-winning apps, serve community

Berks HackPSU

From left are Abdullah Hasani, Major League Hacking; Bonnie Cui, Penn State Berks; Louis Cubero, Queens College, City University of New York; and Cameron Wills, Penn State University Park.

Credit: Provided by Bonnie Cui

WYOMISSING, Pa. — This spring, Penn State Berks students have developed two new apps that won awards in Penn State's HackPSU Spring 2024 competition. They also found time to serve the local community by providing education on cybersecurity issues and best practices to seniors.

Students develop award-winning apps at HackPSU

One student team received the HackPSU “Best Use of MongoDB Atlas” award for their app named “Mindful Garden AI.” The inspiration for their app was to offer support to people struggling to navigate mental health challenges. MindGarden AI is a user-friendly web app that assists with mental wellbeing by providing positive affirmations, logging journals, and a place to set goals. Users can obtain both randomly generated affirmations and guided affirmations based on a challenge they are experiencing.

Team members include Penn State Berks cybersecurity analytics and operations majors Matthew Blake and Elizabeth Kowalczyk, and information technology major Corey Livinghouse; and Penn State University Park computer science major Bakhtiar Reza and computer engineering major Jacob Piehl.

“Hackathons like HackPSU are challenging but rewarding,” Blake said. “They push you to your limits and help you grow. It was tough to build this comprehensive app in 24 hours, but the learning experience was invaluable. As the back-end developer, I honed my skills in Python web frameworks, OAuth and MongoDB.”

“HackPSU was an incredibly positive experience where me and my team there learned so much through collaboration in our project,” Kowalczyk said. “Having received recognition for our project is motivating and pushes me to keep learning more.” 

Another team received the “Best AI Application Built with Cloudflare” award for PicNik, a photo sharing platform that allows users to maintain the confidentiality of their contact information and rids their phone's memory of data, such as temporary contacts and group chats. A temporary group with a unique QR code receives a space for sharing photos within 24 hours from the time the QR code is generated, allowing group members to upload and download the photos without sharing personal data.

Team members include Penn State Berks computer science majors Bonnie Cui and Cameron Wills and Louis Cubero of Queens College, City University of New York.

“As a team of three students in their first and second years with little coding experience, our realistic goal was to learn something new, meet new people, and create a working code within 24 hours on HackPSU. However, the results exceeded our expectations when we were announced winners in the nomination category,” Cui said. “I’m grateful to HackPSU organizers for creating an environment that gathered different people driven by the same things together. The HackPSU experience motivates me to keep exploring possibilities in the computer science field.”

Both teams were accompanied to HackPSU at Penn State University Park campus by Saide Zhu, assistant professor of cybersecurity analytics and operations at Penn State Berks.

Students serve seniors in the community

In addition to their competition success, a group of Penn State Berks students in the college’s Technology Club are working to raise awareness of cybercrimes and scams targeting seniors. The Technology Club helped to educate residents of The Highlands in Wyomissing about cybersecurity issues and best practices in March. The students gave a brief presentation on password security, phishing scams and safe practices for banking and shopping online. Following the presentation, the students answered questions and helped the residents to secure their devices.

Penn State Berks Technology Club is composed of students majoring in one of the college’s degree programs in cybersecurity analytics and operations, information technology, and security and risk analysis, and students with an interest in cybersecurity. The students who gave the presentation included Matthew Blake, Elizabeth Kowalczyk, Rere Adeyemo, Jayvian Pettit, Michael Lazcano Camacho and Arianna Mendez De La Cruz.

“We presented on common online scams such as phishing and phone call scams, along with potential indicators of these scams," Blake said. "We also discussed preventative measures, like limiting the amount of personal information that they publish online, identifying situations that may be too good to be true, and making secure passwords. The audience at The Highlands was very open to learning. Some of them even insisted that was come back for a follow-up visit.”

Funding was provided by the Penn State Berks Howard O., Jr., and Jean S. Beaver Endowment for Community Service. Tricia Clark, assistant teaching professor of information sciences and technology and program chair of the cybersecurity analytics and operations, information technology, and security and risk analysis degree programs, serves as adviser to the Berks Technology Club. For more information, contact Clark at [email protected].


Tricia Clark

Tricia Clark, Instructor in Information, Systems and Technology at Penn State Berks