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Published: April 06, 2016

Six UT Students Tackle Global Health in 2016 Case Competition

Six UT students have a daunting task ahead of them — figuring out how to help women in rural India who suffer from a condition caused by prolonged childbirth that leaves them with health problems and social stigmas.

As participants in the 2016 Emory Global Health Case Competition, UT’s team will spend April 8–9 in Atlanta pitching their ideas for a solution against 23 other universities, including University of California, Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, Yale and Harvard. The topic, which was just announced April 2, is “Restoring Women’s Dignity: Preventing and Treating Obstetric Fistulas in India.”

The UT team includes Jennifer Finney ’16, public health with a minor in sociology; Daniela Ramirez ’16, double major in criminology and government and world affairs with a minor in cybersecurity; Michael Hartman ’17, management with a minor in political science; Austin MacFarland ’16, public health with a minor in sociology; Arnab Pandey MBA ’16; and Writwika Das MBA ’17.

While UT has sent many students to case study competitions, this one stands out in its interdisciplinary nature. The groups are made up of students from different majors in different colleges working to promote awareness of and innovative solutions for 21st century global health issues.

"Transdisciplinary work is key to the success of the team, as the health cases are very comprehensive and the posed problems span across various fields," said Miloslava Plachkinova, UT assistant professor of cybersecurity, who is leading the UT effort. "Thus, students learn to communicate with their peers from other disciplines and expand their knowledge to other domains. Everyone brings a unique perspective to the team and this is what makes the competition so exciting."

Plachkinova, whose research focuses on better integrating technology into health care, is familiar with the Emory competition — she competed as a graduate student last year. It was such an interesting experience for her, she wanted to bring the opportunity to her students as a professor.

“In academia we tend to work in silos, but working on this interdisciplinary team helped me to see the perspective of others,” as well the diversity of the jobs in global health, said Plachkinova. “I’m hoping this experience opens my students’ eyes to what’s out there.”

The students have spent this semester practicing with previous cases, receiving feedback from mock presentations and meeting with faculty to research ideas. Topics in the past have included improving public health services in the former Soviet countries, reforming the World Health Organization, reducing gun violence in Honduras and improving France’s health system.

“Entering this competition enriches my academic career here at UT,” said Ramirez, of San Juan, Puerto Rico. “This is something I have never done before, which makes it more nerve-wracking and exciting.”

“I am very interested in social entrepreneurship and health care innovations, so this competition allows me to draw from both of those passions to solve real global problems affecting millions of people,” said Finney, who is also working on a startup social enterprise called OptiMrkt to make a difference in the urban slums of India.

Hartman recently participated in the Harvard National Model United Nations with a team from UT, an experience he enjoyed so much he wanted another challenge.

“This experience is a great way to learn about groups and teamwork in high pressure and professional situations, something that is easier to get outside the classroom,” Hartman said.

Pandey, who lead a team to the top 12 among 135 in the Geneva Challenge 2015, said it is important for future business leaders to take a global approach to problem solving.

“This competition is very dear to me, because we are helping to solve a problem that is persisting in the world space, and being a business student and a responsible human being, I feel it is my responsibility to help solve the problem and bring a balance and a change to the community.”

The competition involves a 15-minute presentation with 10 minutes for questions. There are six potential awards announced April 9 with first place receiving $6,000.


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