MONACA, Pa. — When crops contract diseases, farmers have places to go to find the correct diagnosis and cure, mostly likely a behemoth of a book that weighs as much as a piece of farm equipment.
And, as Richard Lomotey, assistant professor of information sciences and technology at Penn State Beaver, points out, that’s not exactly convenient.
“Nobody goes to their farm with a book,” Lomotey said.
What farmers do carry is what everyone carries — a well-equipped smartphone. So last semester, Lomotey, whose expertise lies in developing mobile applications for health care and agriculture, challenged his students to create an app that, theoretically, would help cocoa pod farmers in Ghana diagnose disease and find the right pesticide to treat it.
Senior IST major Evan McStay was on the team that developed the app, which allows farmers to cure their crops by taking a photograph of the ailing plant and putting it into the app.
The results were so promising that Lomotey suggested McStay expand the scope of the project and create a similar application for western Pennsylvania farmers.
So McStay applied for — and received — a $2,000 Penn State Student Engagement Network Grant. The Student Engagement Network serves those who wish to expand their undergraduate experience through experiential learning opportunities.
The grant will allow McStay to spend part of his summer — when he’s not interning at FedEx — gathering research and data, organizing that data into the application, and, finally, reaching out to local farmers to test the app.
“It will give me the experience of fully developing an app and helping the community,” McStay said.
And that, Lomotey insists, is the goal of IST.
“The community benefits when we use technical knowledge to solve a real-world problem,” Lomotey said. “Our students are going out and transforming the world around us.”