Senior computer science major Rachel Schifano isn’t afraid to get outside her comfort zone.

And this semester, that meant competing in the School of Information Technology‘s Mobile App Development (MAD) Contest, sponsored by State Farm Insurance. Schifano had never built an app before, but she dived right in along with her partner, Austin Savage. Together, they worked to create Ergosphere, a study app that tracks a student’s physical activity to help optimize study time and knowledge retention.

“Rachel is an excellent student, not only in her technical ability, but those other qualities that are necessary to be a successful professional—collaboration, presentation, she communicates well, she’s personable,” said Tal Parmenter ’98, coordinator of academic services in the School of Information Technology.

The MAD Contest is the brainchild of State Farm campus recruiter and Illinois State alumnus Eric Cook ’93, M.B.A. ’00. For Schifano, who grew up as an artist but got hooked on computers playing on her dad’s Mac as a kid, the unique contest gave her a chance “to pioneer, to build something from the ground up”—the very things that drew her to computer science.

“It’s one of those opportunities that everyone should take advantage of, whether it’s your major or not,” Schifano said. “Anything that is outside your classroom that pulls together everything you’re learning, so you can test the waters and see what you know, I think that’s extremely important to your success.”

Ryan Denham can be reached at