Competition challenges issues in public health

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By Amabel Karoub, Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 16, 2014

On Friday, five teams of finalists stood outside an auditorium in the School of Public Health, staring at PowerPoint slides. The competitors worked in their groups, repeating lines they would be expected to know for their presentations only a few minutes later.

These teams participated in Innovation in Action: Solutions to Public Health Challenges, a new competition created by the University’s School of Public Health. Over a period of five months, 56 students from 11 teams came together regularly to solve a chosen public health problem. The final five teams presented their ideas to the public at Friday's event.

Out of the five finalist teams, three winning teams were chosen as the standouts, with one winning team from each of the three competition categories. Each winning team received a $2500 prize, and the grand prize winner had the opportunity to pitch their idea at the TEDxUofM conference Saturday.

Enliven, winner of both the grand prize and the Detecting Disease and Risk Control category, is a cell phone application aimed to decrease anxiety and depression in young adult women by promoting self-worth.

“The point of the app is to work on individual character strengths—kindness, selflessness, vulnerability, self-acceptance,” said Nursing graduate student Meaghan Cotter, a project member. “You work on them by doing what we call ‘Daily-Do’s,’ which can be anything from a self-reflection to a pay it forward in the community.”

LiquidGoldConcept, a more efficient breast pump to serve working mothers, won the Empowering the Underserved category. Public Health student Ileisha Sanders said her experience working on the project taught her important lessons in entrepreneurship.

“It really makes you think about sustainability, and you can use entrepreneurship to do that,” Sanders said. “That’s not so typical of what public health does.”

The winner in the Technology-Enabled Health and Wellness Category was My Waiting Room, a cell phone application meant to personalize a patient’s waiting room experience.

Vic Strecher, director of innovation and social entrepreneurship in the School of Public Health, and Ann Verhey-Henke, associate director of innovation and social entrepreneurship in the School of Public Health, led the competition. Strecher said the creative outlet provided through the competition was overdue for Public Health students.

“We realized that a lot of students come here to the School of Public Health now with a very strong interest in social entrepreneurship, and creating a new public health,” Strecher said. “I found that they have wonderful ideas, but there is no avenue to take those early ideas and create deeper concepts from them and, even beyond that, create products or services.”

The presentation featured nationally renowned poetic voice Sekou Andrews. Through his pieces on the growing relationship between public health and technology, he elicited laughs and a standing ovation from the audience. As a former fifth grade teacher, Andrews said he maintains a commitment to education.

“When a school calls, I tend to come,” Andrews said. “It was an opportunity to inspire on a topic that I care about — innovations in health.”

Andrews said one message of his poems was for people to embrace change.

“Technology is causing the world to move faster and faster,” Andrews said. “Those who can keep up are going to be successful whether it’s in entrepreneurial endeavors, whether it’s in healthcare endeavors, whether it’s in capital endeavors.”