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Northwestern University

Feinberg School of Medicine
Engineering Design Innovation Masters Students

Food allergies affect 8% of US children. Parents work hard to keep their young children safe. Years of vigilance can be unraveled by a misplaced label. So, parents build strong support networks of healthcare providers, friends, and faculty, to make sure that their children have all of the resources that they need, and can advocate for themselves. Once their kids are ready to go to college, a new challenge presents itself, how can their critical support networks be replaced?

2.6 million students with life-threatening food allergies will enter US colleges in the next 4 years. They will live under the shadow of health risks and social constraints, constantly navigating food choices across every college experience. The steps that they take prior to arriving on campus often prove pivotal to their social, emotional, and academic success. Yet students and their families have a hard time uncovering the existing resources available at the school. A collaborative team from the Feinberg School of Medicine and students in the Engineering Design Innovation Masters program at Northwestern University set about to change this dynamic.

The team used stakeholder interviews, ecology maps, user journey maps, prototypes, testing and iteration to develop a digital platform called Spotlight: Compass. The app brings visibility and usability to existing resources that the college has in place. The app also allows students to create a modular food plan that can be shared with parents and healthcare providers, all from a phone.

Implementation costs for the college are approximately the same as tuition for a single student, small in comparison to student health costs, and lost tuition. And since serious food allergies can be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), without plans in place to support food allergic students, schools may face fines related to ADA non-compliance.

As a tool for self-advocacy it is invaluable. Spotlight: Compass allows each student to create their future their own terms and not be defined by their allergies.


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