New NUhelp app consolidates safety resources


Screenshot from NUHelp

SafeWalk, a feature in the new NUHelp app, allows students to set a timer for their trips between campus and Evanston locations. If students fail to cancel the timer, a message will be sent to a safety contact urging them to contact NUPD.

Mariana Alfaro, Development and Recruitment Editor

NUhelp, a new smartphone application dedicated to safety and wellness for Northwestern students, was introduced last week during Wildcat Welcome.

“(NUhelp) is specific to health and wellness as well as safety and security, a place where people can share concerns,” Dean of Students Todd Adams said.

A team of developers, in collaboration with Associated Student Government and Adams’ office, will soon begin a campaign to promote the app to returning students and other members of the NU community, especially after it was well-received by members of the freshman class and transfer students.

The app, which is a mobile version of the NUhelp website, provides students with an array of different resources like campus maps and contact information for campus offices, such as the Center for Awareness, Response and Education and Counseling and Psychological Services.

“It’s a one-stop shop for all of the resources,” said Anthony Kirchmeier, the director of off-campus life. “It gives people a response pathway in their hands, on their phones.”

SafeWalk, one of the app’s features, is designed to help students safely travel around campus. Students use the feature by choosing a destination on or near campus and then set an estimated time of how long it will take them to walk there.

If a student fails to reach the destination within their time limit, a notification will be sent to a designated contact who is prompted to call University Police and inform them about the missing student. The feature can then be used to track that missing student’s location.

This feature was one of the hardest to create for the application because it required collaboration between UP and the app, developer Hao Luo said.

SafeWalk is not available yet for the Chicago campus, the service might be extended to the Chicago campus in the future, Adams said.

The newest version of NUhelp is available to download for both Android and iPhone smartphones, with minimal differences between smartphone platforms.

“One technical challenge was developing a singular application that will work on both iPhone and Android,” said Chris Walker, another software developer involved in the project. “We developed it in a way that the application doesn’t feel too tailored for one of the operating systems.”

Kirchmeier said about 1,200 people have downloaded the app, most of them freshmen, transfer students and Peer Advisers. He said he hopes throughout the year more returning students will download the app and share it not only with other students but with NU community members beyond the Evanston campus.

“(We’re looking at) eventually having more input and more users from the larger undergraduate and graduate student body,” he said. “We want parents to know about the application so that they, as well as their students, know about the services available at Northwestern.”

The app went through almost two years of research and development, which Adams said was tailored to NU students.

“We were able to design it with student involvement and input in-house to meet some pretty specific needs,” he said.

Adams said his office and the application’s developers look forward to user feedback to make the app more accurate and functional for the NU student body.

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Twitter: @marianaa_alfaro