Sex education is an important question for schools and for young people’s parents. The main question is what and how to explain to their children? How to teach the youth to be careful and respectful to each other? How to bring them the knowledge of how to reduce unplanned pregnancy and prevent other problems? How to instruct them to make sex satisfaction, not troubles? Not only parents but three young girls have been thinking about this slippery topic and came up with an idea to create a specialized educational app. They called the application MyHealthEd to emphasize the importance of issues for the health of each of us.


An award for a socially important project

After a coworking for Teach For America corps members, two health behavior doctoral students at the University of North Carolina Liz Chen and Cristina Leos came to the conclusion that the need in a tutorial application concerning the questions about sexual relations is obvious. Together with an M.B.A. candidate at Yale University School of Management Vichi Jagannathan, they in hopes of revolutionizing the health education field.

The creative trio combined their equal skills in public health and management to present their project for Innovation Next, an organization which is part of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In September 2016, girls became popular because of receiving a grant from the Innovation Next program potentially worth up to $325,000. This money is given as financial assistance for further advance of the concept for Real Talk, a mobile-based sex educational platform developed for middle school students.

Left to right: Cristina Leos, Liz Chen and Vichi Jagannathan

Left to right: Cristina Leos, Liz Chen and Vichi Jagannathan

126 adversarial firms have been competing for the Innovation Next’s prize and right from the contest’s beginning the Real Talk project has been one of the 10 teams to receive the funding. From March 2016, girls and other project’s founders participated in workshops with a global design and innovation consulting organization called IDEO that aided them in market research and planning, as well as the production of a Real Talk prototype.

The MyHealthEd’s team also conducted surveys among the middle school students in agricultural Eastern North Carolina and West Texas to improve their current app’s version. The study showed that the most effective form of the app is storytelling involving real teens and young adults to share their experience and doubt to engage their peers in the subject more effectively than present curricula does.


A new milestone in the development of sexual education

Financing is found, one problem is already solved. From now on, MyHealthEd focuses on using its award to “develop innovative technology interventions for preventing teen pregnancy,” according to a press release from The National Campaign, which supports the nonprofit in association with IDEO. The team has already decided to build beta testing Real Talk and involve 5000 users by the end of 2018.

“As a former teacher, I am thrilled to continue working alongside middle-school students as they guide us in developing a sex education app that resonates with them,” Chen told the Gillings School’s official website. “As we forge ahead, I am also excited to build new skills in nonprofit management and marketing so that we can successfully develop Real Talk and disseminate it broadly.” “Reducing unplanned pregnancy—and its emotional, familial, fiscal, and social impact—has significant implications for all of us,” said IDEO’s public sector portfolio director Kate Lydon. “We’re excited to see how the winning Innovation Next teams create lasting, positive change by bringing a design thinking lens to this issue. ”Leos said that one of her goals for graduate training at Carolina has been to integrate innovative techniques from diverse fields to better understand adolescent sexual health.


Christina Leos marked that one of her aims for graduate courses at Carolina University has been to integrate innovative methods from different areas to better understand teenage sexual health. “This competition pushed us to learn new skills and completely rethink how we approach sex education,” she said. “The middle-school students with whom we worked taught us so much about how to engage them using technology, and our job was to apply those insights to a product that would help improve their sexual health. Real Talk presents sex education in a way that resonates with middle-school students, and we are confident that it will transform how students across the country learn about sex and relationships.”


Transforming the idea into a popular and comfortable mobile application

In the next few months, the Real Talk team will be working together with young adults in North Carolina and Texas to perfect their plan, continue developing the application and build connections with nonprofit companies that assist youth. IDEO and the National Campaign will further help girls with the creation of an audience proved and medically correct production that must be ready to be marketed in 2018. As one of the awardees, the MyHealthEd trio will be capable of expanding the app into a testable device.

Girls’ idea received positive feedback from many of companies and persons who work in the fields of health and especially sex health and education among young people. “The declines in teen pregnancy and childbearing over the past two decades have been historic,” said vice president of digital media at The National Campaign Lawrence Swiader. “These interventions will help ensure that this important national success story continues. Each concept adds something new to the field and addresses audiences that previously have been underserved.”


“We’re over the moon about this award!” said Barbara K. Rimer, DrPH, dean and Alumni Distinguished Professor at the Gillings School. “It’s great recognition of the wonderful work Liz, Cristina and Vichi already have done in developing Real Talk. This is also an amazing opportunity for them to get help from some of the best people anywhere and the resources to make Real Talk a marketable reality. We are so proud of them and so appreciative of the many people at the Gillings School and the University who helped them become a winning team.”

Today, the beta version of the app is available on the website The completed version will be released in Google play and AppStore in 2018.

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