Tech Brief

Focused on supporting the youth of our nation 0-25. In a joint conversation between our team and The Colorado Education Initiative focused on our pilot to address the pressing issue of loneliness among adolescent populations. Our work in transcreating Nod for a high school allowed us to officially launch our pilot in spring 2022 across eight high schools in Colorado. Project Accomplishments: Completed the Nod app transcreation process through a co-design process with a student advisory committee. Designed onboarding protocols for pilot schools and developed a pilot launch package for easy implementation. Onboarded 8 high schools that served 3,859 students during the spring semester of 2022. Key Takeaways: Loneliness is a challenge within high schools Teachers & students alike are willing to engage with the right interventions Devote adequate time for multipronged recruitment & onboarding Features: Student co-research & design is essential for success Nod resonated with high school students: design, topics, and activities were on point Student Feedback “I’ve tried a lot of these [apps] in the same vein, and I always came away feeling a little patronized. I don’t feel like I ever experienced that while using Nod. I always felt like it was designed for me, with me in mind.” (Senior, University High School) “Nod has helped me see the other side of people.” (Freshman, West Grand High School) “I’m a freshman doing sports for the first time. Nod really helped me communicate with my seniors and juniors – it helped me to get my emotions out.” (Freshman, Sargent High School)

Problem Tech Solves

Increasingly students face a gap between the relationships they want to have and those they actually have. Nod was created to address the growing problem of loneliness on campuses by building social connections. The growth in diversity, the pressure to make college worth the cost, and the decline in in-person social interaction during high-school has lead to lonelier college campuses. Nod uses cognitive behavioral therapy to reinforce positive social habits and build community. Research published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) shows Nod's success in buffering at-risk college students from loneliness and depression while also improving sleep quality, social support, and intent to persist. Nod is the first mobile intervention of its kind to enter a randomized controlled trial. This project was developed in collaboration with Hopelab, a foundation commited to helping improve the health and wellbeing of young people, and our sister company Cactus, a national leader in branding, digital and marketing strategy.


This pilot randomized controlled trial was conducted to examine the initial efficacy, feasibility, and desirability of a smartphone app, Nod, designed to deliver cognitive and behavioral skill-building exercises to reduce loneliness on campus home Methods: First-year college students (N=221, mean age 18.7 years, 59% female) were recruited online during incoming student orientation, and randomized to either receive immediate access to Nod (experimental group, n=100) or access after 4 weeks (control group, n=121). The app delivered skills via fully automated (1) “social challenges,” suggested activities designed to build social connections; (2) reflections, brief cognitive reframing exercises; and (3) student testimonials that encouraged a growth mindset toward social connection building. However, there was a significant condition-by-baseline depression interaction to predict week-4 loneliness . Baseline depression positively predicted week-4 loneliness among control participants but not among experimental participants suggesting that Nod buffered participants with high baseline depression scores from experiencing heightened midquarter loneliness. However, moderation by baseline vulnerability was found for week-4 depressive symptoms, sleep quality, and indices of college adjustment (eg, perceived social support and campus belonging). Conclusions: Although Nod exposure did not impact outcomes for the full sample, these results provide initial evidence of its benefit for vulnerable students. The results of this trial suggest that cognitive and behavioral skills delivered via a mobile app can buffer psychologically vulnerable college students against heightened loneliness and depressive symptoms, as well as other negative college adjustment outcomes. Future work will aim to improve upon app engagement, and to address loneliness among other key populations.