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WVU student creates digital building blocks to a healthier lifestyle

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At one point in his college years, Jeffrey Byrd didn't know whether his calling in life was to be a health professional or a computer nerd. Luckily, he found a job where he was able to be both of these things at West Virginia University's WellWVU.

A student worker job he picked up over the summer offered him the chance to incorporate both passions together to create the WELLGO Calendar, an online program that teaches students how to integrate healthy lifestyle habits into their weekly schedules to avoid unnecessary stress.

Byrd, a senior computer science major from Las Vegas, Nev., said the project began as a group assignment for a game development class he took last spring semester. WELLGO Calendar is a game created by WELLWVU's Office of Wellness & Health Promotion and administered in person to students during wellness programming. Wanting to broaden the reach of the program, Colleen Harshbarger, director of the Office of Wellness and Health Promotion, presented the game to Dr. Frances VanScoy's computer gaming class.

By the end of the semester, Harshbarger wanted to hire the group as summer student workers to fully create the program. As Byrd was the only student available to accept the position, he worked on it all summer by himself under her direction.

"I originally started out as a psychology major, but when I went into computer science I decided I wanted to write software that plays the role of health professionals or helps with health issues, so this was right up my alley," Byrd said. "I loved it, it was pretty much the first job I ever had and I got to do something I'm passionate about."

"Overall, this was a great summer project for me. I learned a whole lot about building websites, how to host applications on servers and different programming languages. I taught myself a lot."

The program encompasses all aspects of what a typical student's week would include in categories such as eating, going to class, studying, work/volunteering, exercising, socializing, drinking, sleeping, spiritual practice and miscellaneous. Each category has a different colored block that students drag into the provided spreadsheet to make up a hypothetical schedule for the upcoming week.

Once the schedule is built and the student hits the "analyze" button, the program will provide feedback, Byrd said.

"It is built to analyze such factors as not getting enough sleep, alerting the student that skipping breakfast is a health risk and commending them for things such as balancing social life with study time", he said. "Students can then go back in and modify the blocks to fix the health risks. Once they're done, they have a good hypothetical schedule to go off of for the week and can save the stress of worrying about what's coming up."

Harshbarger said WELLWVU has used the game for the past two years as a part of its chillWELL program, and wanted a way to bring it to more students with an online interactive format.

"The main point of the program is to provide students with a tool to improve time management skills and to help them understand how organizing their time can improve efficiency and actually give them more time to do the things they love," Harshbarger said. "Students can learn how some choices they make throughout the week contribute to or detract from optimum performance, such as yo-yo sleep patterns decreasing cognitive function and alertness, and other factors."

Harshbarger said students identify stress and lack of sleep as the top two impediments to academic success, and the program will help to encourage students to plan and lead a balanced, healthy life.

"Based on the theory of planned behavior, students who create a realistic plan for success and optimal performance are more likely to achieve it. WELLgo Calendar will help students learn which behaviors contribute to stress, and which foster well-being. A healthy balance of social time, study time, and healthy lifestyle behaviors is the key to student success in college. The calendar helps students learn how to establish that balance," she said.

The office of WELLWVU encourages all students to try the program, whether they are new this semester or working on a doctorate degree. The program has the ability to export the student's finished product into a Google Calendar once completed, and future plans for the project are to integrate it with the student's inidividual MyID logins.

To make a WELLGO Calendar, visit http://well.wvu.edu and click on the link at the bottom of the page.