June 27, 2018

UCalgary students take innovative concept to World's Challenge Challenge finals

Team’s proposed idea increases access to mental health services
The Mentality team, from left: Natalie Giglio, Kendal Boyles and Megan Leslie. Their idea was an artificial intelligence software that allows people instant access to non-biased mental health support.
The Mentality team, from left: Natalie Giglio, Kendal Boyles and Megan Leslie. Their idea was an art University of Calgary photos

Imagine: Artificial intelligence software that provides instant support and feedback when you're feeling depressed or lonely. Three University of Calgary students did more than imagine — they developed the concept and pitched it an international competition.   

  • Above, from left, UCalgary students Natalie Giglio (Haskayne School of Business), Kendal Boyles (Haskayne School of Business), and Megan Leslie (Schulich School of Engineering and Haskayne School of Business) represented UCalgary at the World Challenge Challenge (WCC) finals competition last week.

The WCC competition encourages students to work across disciplines to come up with innovative solutions to global problems. Fifteen student teams from eight countries gathered in London, Ont. for an international pitch competition and a chance to bring their world-changing ideas to life. The UCalgary team, Mentality, focused on the important issue of mental health.

“I know far too many people affected by mental health conditions,” says Boyles. “I have seen and experienced first-hand the effects, alongside the confusion, frustration and general helplessness that comes with them. Whether or not you know someone affected, it is shown that one in every five Canadians are affected by a mental health condition. To me, any cause that large that is not receiving the attention, help and legitimization it deserves is completely mind blowing.” 

The Mentality team’s proposed idea was an artificial intelligence (AI) software that will allow individuals instant access to non-biased mental health support. Individuals can share their feelings and problems through video chat with the AI, and it will respond accordingly to their concerns and visual or audio signals. The data collected by the AI during each interaction will be kept anonymous and used for further research on mental health in order to provide long-term solutions.

The Mentality team pitches their idea at the World’s Challenge Challenge competition at Western University.

The Mentality team pitches their idea at the World’s Challenge Challenge competition.

University of Calgary

“I’m very proud of these students, they showed real innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit,” says Dr. Janaka Ruwanpura, vice-provost (international). “We need our graduates to be able to take on big challenges. The WCC encourages students to think outside of the box, work with students from across disciplines, and take a hard look at the major problems in the world. I am already looking forward to see what ideas come out of next year’s competition.” 

All finalists at the competition aligned their solutions to global problems with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

'Fueled' by electric cars, from the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, won the 2018 WCC. Their idea, titled E-Hop: The Future of Electric Vehicle Charging, investigates the links between climate change and electric cars and introduced a new model for car chargers, which would be available for rent like vacation homes listed on Airbnb.

Of their experience at the competition, Boyles says, “It was evident throughout the entire week that the focus was on development, collaboration and innovation, not solely the competition. We were able to interact with the other teams, meet incredible mentors, including the president of Western University, and dig in and explore our concepts further. This format allowed me to reflect, engage and develop throughout the competition, and truly increased the amount I took away from the experience.”

The University of Calgary finals took place in March, where Mentality was awarded the top prize of $6,000 and went on to represent UCalgary at Western University for the finals. Applications will open this fall for next year's competition. The UCalgary World Challenge Challenge takes place during International Development Week in February. Contact Jamie Charlebois, jamie.charlebois@ucalgary.ca for more information.