Capt. Justin Gilbert believed the new LiveSafe app offered by the UConn Police Department could be a potential lifesaver for students—if only they knew about it.
But after a semester of availability, the app had only 400 active users.
“We weren’t getting much traction,’’ Gilbert says. “And that was really frustrating because this app has really great safety features.’’
As good fortune would have it, marketing professor Joseph Pancras had heard about the app and called the police department to ask a technical question.
When Gilbert discovered he was talking to a marketing expert, he asked for advice about promoting the app more effectively. Pancras thought it would make a great student-led initiative, and last semester he created an undergraduate Special Topics course to market the technology on campus.
The impact was profound.
Today, some 3,000 UConn students and employees are using LiveSafe, and it has been deployed numerous times to connect students with emergency responders.
The police department was so pleased with the outcome, that last month it awarded a Community Excellence award to Pancras and the seven marketing students who created and implemented the “Protect the Pack’’ campaign.
Project Required Teamwork, Leadership
Samantha Borsari ’24 (BUS) and Evan Shein ’24 (BUS) say they enjoyed the class and working on an authentic project was particularly meaningful.
“This project definitely resonated with me, because I knew that it could save lives and make people feel safer. Knowing that we were helping people added to our enthusiasm,’’ Borsari says.
Shein says he has discussed his experience marketing the app in job interviews, and potential employers have been impressed.
“People have asked if I’ve taken a leadership role on a project, and this is a perfect example of how we all worked as a team, but also contributed individually to the marketing project’s success. We got our hands dirty,’’ he says. “If I would rewind time, I would take this class 1,000 times again.’’
App Offers Travel Monitoring, Quick Link to Police
The LiveSafe app is unique in that it offers an easy way to for students to invite their friends to monitor their travel, either when walking or driving. The app’s SafeWalk feature also provides both parties with immediate connection with police dispatchers if help is needed, Gilbert says. Users can also submit photos and video anonymously if they wish.
The service also provides tools to access mental health professionals immediately and connects students with other resources including maps, blue light locators, emergency procedures, and links to other safety and wellness information.
Reaching Students Required a Multi-Tier Strategy
Mariya Topchy ’23 Ph.D. volunteered to advise the undergraduate students with the project while completing her doctorate. Initially everyone thought that promoting the app on Instagram and Facebook would be highly successful, she says.
“It was interesting because we learned as we did it,’’ Borsari says. “We did beta testing with digital ads. There was some trial and error.’’ The marketing students were able to see real-time data about how many UConn students had downloaded the app, so they quickly knew what worked and what didn’t.
And while the ad campaign did increase participation, it turned out that the marketing students needed a multi-tiered approach to reach the UConn student body.
Many students had concerns about privacy and whether police were using the app not for safety but for law-enforcement purposes. The marketing students designed an in-person campaign, and were able to get a small budget to purchase t-shirts, lip balm, candy, hand sanitizer and pens as giveaways. Shein, who works in fan engagement for UConn Athletics, enjoyed the personal approach.
“We had a line of people while we were setting up,’’ he says. One of the advantages of in-person marketing was to reassure college students had that police weren’t using the app to disrupt parties or that they had some hidden agenda.
“Some people were hesitant and asked some really good questions,’’ Shein says. “Typically, after we explained it and told them it was for their safety, they were willing to try it.’’
The final marketing promotion, running a banner ad on HuskyCT, the university’s academic portal, drew an unexpectedly strong response.
“Our students study a lot and are often on the academic portal, so that turned out to be a great way to reach them,’’ Borsari says.
The team, which also included undergrad marketing students Ian Esquero ’24 (BUS), Irene Kim ’25 (BUS), and Wiktoria Szalacha ’24 (BUS), and marketing Ph.D. student-mentor Justin Sieow, say they learned more than they expected from the LiveSafe marketing class, including how to purchase advertising, how to use Google analytics, and how to purchase promotional materials. Together they created the “Protect the Pack’’ slogan and logo, designed a website with FAQs, experimented with different styles of advertising, interviewed classmates about what would attract their attention—and never gave up.
UConn employees from different departments, including CETL, Web Design, Division of University Safety, and HuskyCT, went out of their way to help with infrastructure and expertise, Pancras says.
Pancras: A Project Manager’s Dream
“It was a great experience, and we were grateful for so many people across the university who were able to help us with different concerns,’’ says Topchy, who now works at Travelers. “It felt good to be recognized as making a significant contribution to UConn’s public safety.’’
Pancras says he is incredibly proud of the students’ achievement and glad that he was able to give them the chance to showcase their abilities.
“I’m very happy for the students. I want them to walk into an interview saying, ‘This is what I did and here is the outcome.’ Here are seven students who can say they won a community excellence award for the impact they had,’’ Pancras says.
“They did a phenomenal job,’’ Gilbert says. “I can’t say enough about the efforts the School of Business, the students, and Professor Pancras put in. The community at large should be thankful as well. We really appreciate it.’’
“This team was a project manager’s dream,’’ Pancras says. “They worked hard and did everything I expected and more. They came up with creative ideas and implemented them. Given all the work they did, and the success they had, I should have awarded them six credits!’’
To download the LiveSafe app, please visit: universitysafety.uconn.edu/livesafe