When computer engineering senior Alyssa Liu left for college, her little sister gave her a shoe box filled with letters. Each letter had instructions for when she was supposed to open it; one was for when she missed home, another for when she got her first bad grade. Whenever Liu was feeling down or overwhelmed, she turned to the shoebox for comfort.

That shoebox became the inspiration for Foveo, an app that Liu and her team are working on developing as their senior project to help college students who suffer from mental illness.

In Latin, Foveo means “to support,” or “to cherish,” according to Liu who serves as the project manager and software developer for the app.

Liu said she decided to focus on mental health not only from her own personal experiences with it, but because COVID-19 has caused many people to be experiencing new or worsened symptoms of mental illness. She said that she’s felt these effects as well, especially during her summer internship.

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt so isolated,” Liu said. “At that given time, mental health was a very big concern, so we’re hoping to rectify that.”

Computer science senior Irenna Lumbuun is the lead software engineer for the app, she said that COVID-19 has caused people to need extra support, and that’s what they hope to provide with their project.

“We’re all isolating, we’re all feeling this loneliness not being able to contact the people in our support system,” Lumbuun said. ”Right now it’s especially important to be able to tackle this problem.”

Business senior Kasey Moffitt, and marketing and public relations director for Foveo, said that they are specifically trying to help people who suffer from stress, anxiety and depression, but that the app won’t be limited to just those areas.

Foveo will be composed of three main components, according to Moffitt.

The main feature, Moffit said, will be positive note taking inspired by Liu’s shoebox of notes from her sister. Users will be able to add friends to their networks and send them positive notes to bring them happiness throughout the day. They will also be able to organize the notes they receive into boards, like Pinterest, so that they can have notes dedicated for specific situations.

The second component is something called the “Calm Zone.” Moffitt explained that this feature will include more basic tools that can be found in most mental health apps, designed to help people get through periods of heightened stress, fear or sadness.

“We’ll have things like visuals, auditory sounds, meditation and breathing,” Moffitt said. “All those things just kind of help calm you down and center you when you’re going through something in that moment.”

The final feature is called the “Mindful Marketplace.” According to Moffitt, this will allow users to purchase and attach gifts in-app to their positive notes. The idea is that parents and relatives will be able to send gifts to their kids at college to help them get through tough times, or just add a little joy to their day, Moffitt said.

“Through research we found that it’s great to receive a note, but sometimes receiving something tangible is great too,” Moffitt said.

Moffitt said they’re still in the process of figuring out which items to add to the marketplace, but that it will most likely be things like gift cards to local restaurants, or mindful items such as face masks or bath bombs.

Upon initial launch, Moffitt said Foveo will be geared mainly towards college students, but that they’d like to eventually expand its reach to more age groups.

Liu said that they put a lot of thought into making sure Foveo isn’t a “social media” app. She said the app won’t display any follower numbers, and users won’t be able to post things like status updates, in order to prevent any type of toxicity that can be associated with typical social media.

“It’s really just a personalized experience for each user, so we want to ensure that they don’t feel pressured to act or be a certain way,” Liu said.

Business senior Brandon Emba, Foveo’s director of financial projections and market relations, said that the community aspect is what sets Foveo apart from other mental health apps.

“What other apps focus on is self improvement through guided meditation or guided journal templates, just going through a process by yourself and dealing with it,” Emba said. “What makes our app different is you go through the process with your support group.”

Foveo has been accepted to Cal Poly’s CIE Hatchery, a program designed to offer mentorship to students in order to help their start-ups succeed faster, which will help them continue to create the app while they’re still at Cal Poly. The team hopes to be able to continue to develop Foveo after graduating.

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