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AU Students Develop Solutions to Gun Violence in Brazil

AU Global Health Case Competition winning team focused on education, community empowerment, and gun regulation legislation

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Gun violence is not just a problem in the United States. In 2019, an estimated 250,227 people across the world died from gun violence. Nearly 70 percent of these deaths occurred in just six countries: Brazil, the United States, Venezuela, Mexico, India, and Colombia. Brazil led the world in gun deaths—there were nearly 50,000 gun deaths in Brazil in 2019 alone.

It is a crisis with serious health and social implications, and it requires innovative strategies and interventions to find solutions. This makes it a perfect case for this year’s American University’s Global Health Case Competition (GHCC), sponsored by the Department of Health Studies. The competition challenges teams of students to develop innovative solutions for 21st century global health issues. The teams are judged by experts in medicine, mental health, and evaluation research. Prize money for the winning teams is set as: First place: $1000; Second place: $500; Third place: $500.

Health Case competition participants

Nine Teams, Thoughtful Solutions

Nine teams from across the university took on the challenge to develop innovative and multi-disciplinary proposals to reduce Brazil’s high prevalence of gun violence and its health and social ramifications. Students formed teams of four-to-six undergraduate/graduate students representing at least three disciplines, schools, or majors. The teams had two weeks to develop a feasible and creative proposal of an intervention or intervention. The proposal was limited to a budget of $3 million USD to be implemented over a three‐year period.

In this year’s case, the task was not an easy one. A complex web of structural, social, and transnational factors contributes to the high rates of gun violence in Brazil. Proposals had to

prioritize the specific health effects and causal factors to be addressed, justify the choice of interventions, specify the implementation and evaluation strategy, and provide budget estimates for the use of funds within the time frame specified in the case. Teams were encouraged to consider the structural and historical factors in Brazil that influence causal factors in their approach.

“This competition was the largest to date and each of the nine student teams demonstrated impressive strategic thinking and enthusiasm in their proposed solutions,” says Melissa Hawkins, directors of undergraduate programs in the Department of Health Studies. “The teams’ ability to develop their ideas to address this complex global health challenge in such a short amount of time was truly impressive. I saw ingenuity, creativity, and grit in this group of students.”

Winning Teams

  • 1st place
    Davonna Jones
    Nai’la-Mareen Morris
    Shadan Rahmani
    Lindsay Smith
  • 2nd place
    Adira Brenner
    John Burzawa
    Max Kluger
    Rotem Miloh
  • 3rd place
    Margaret Curley
    Lauren Millar
    Hailey Mitchell
    Anjali Singh
    Matt Sullivan
  • Award for Implementation Plan
    Abby Puszkin
    Jamie Sharabani
    Matthew Strasser
    Julianne Wong
  • Award for Innovation
    Janaylin Carela
    Shelton Fantroy
    Sophia Gallard
    Dorothy Nathan
    Dominick Scartz
    Lily Yudis
Members of the winning team, Calma Em Conjunto

The Student Experience

The winning team proposal, Calma Em Conjunto (Calm Together), focused on the Northern Region of Brazil. Its three-pronged solution focused on education, community empowerment, and increased gun regulation legislation, which requires students to stay in school until age 17. The judges noted that the winning team was notable for its legislative approach to reducing gun violence in Brazil and for its dynamic presentation style.

Nai’la-Mareen Morris, a two-time case competition first-place winner, says, “It was an impactful time, especially learning about violence and realizing that solving violence is no easy feat.” Her teammate Lindsay Smith agreed. “I had been looking forward to this challenge since freshman year, and participating on an extremely relevant case made the experience very engaging. It was a pleasure to work with a group of my peers to make a cohesive presentation amidst midterms, jobs, and extracurriculars.”

John Burzawa says the competition was a “fantastic experience from start to end. Our multidisciplinary team got the chance to craft a comprehensive solution to a real-world issue, while learning from one another along the way.” Margaret Curley adds the competition challenged her to apply the skills she’s learned in her core public health classes to simulate how she can utilize them in a career setting. “Working with an interdisciplinary team drew me out of the echo chamber of public health and provided me with perspective on what to expect when working with professionals outside of my field,” she explains. “Creating this health program in two weeks provided me with a wealth of experience in collaboration, health programming, and presenting at a rate that can’t be replicated in a classroom setting.”

For More Information

Previous GHCC have addressed a broad range of public health issues including non-communicable diseases in Caribbean States (2016), drug misuse and addiction in the United States (2017), malnutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa (2018), health and climate change globally (2019), and mental health and well-being among health care workers in New York City (2022).

For more information, visit AU’s Department of Health Studies website.