On October 16, an American University team of six undergraduate public health students beat out graduate and medical student competitors to win the grand prize at the third annual DC Regional Public Health Case Competition. The event was hosted by the National Academy of Medicine, formerly the Institute of Medicine.
The competition promotes interdisciplinary, problem-based learning around a public health issue that faces the DC community. This year, the event focused on mental health and included teams from Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, the University of Maryland, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, and George Mason University.
“Having our undergraduate students win a case competition at the National Academy of Medicine is an incredible accomplishment,” said Peter Starr, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “It is a testament to the strength of our Public Health Program and to the hard work and dedication of its faculty and students.”
The Winning Team
The winning team included Caroline Sell (BS public health and French studies ’16), Alexa Edmier (BS public health ’16), Madison Hayes (BS public health ’16), Shreya Veera (BS public health ‘16), Bailey Cunningham (BA international relations ’17), and Hana Stenson (BS public health ’16).
“I am so proud of the work we were able to accomplish as an undergraduate team,” said Sell. “After two weeks of long nights and collaborative sessions, we were able to develop a program that was creative, effective, and feasible.”
The team received the grand prize of $2,000, and publication of the winning solution in a National Academy of Medicine publication.
“The team’s case solution was innovative, feasible, well-researched, and incredibly well presented—and the judges obviously recognized this,” said Jolynn Gardner, director of AU’s Public Health Program. “These students did an amazing job. Their teamwork, attention to detail, creativity, and professionalism were all incredibly impressive.”
Each team was composed of three-to-six undergraduate or graduate students representing at least three different disciplines. AU’s team was one of only two teams in the competition that was composed entirely of undergraduate students.
“Winning this competition is amazing on any level, but the fact that most of the seven other teams were composed of graduate students and medical students makes our grand prize all the more impressive,” said Gardner.
The teams were tasked with developing a feasible and creative proposal to support mental health in older veterans, aged 65 and older, living in the DC area. They were given five scenarios, adapted from real-life situations that portray the diverse range of issued faced by older veterans, ranging from undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to substance abuse.
They had two weeks to research the issue and develop a comprehensive intervention to address it. The AU team tackled the issue with a proposal titled The Open Door. It included recruiting veteran peer mentors, providing mobility resources, and an interactive resource guide for older veterans facing mental health challenges.
The AU students said that their team worked exceptionally well together. “Initially, I was very nervous about doing this competition, but working with our team really boosted my confidence,” said Cunningham. “They made me feel as though I had important things to say, and I couldn't be more proud of what we've accomplished together.”
On the day of the competition, each team had 15 minutes to present their case solution and they then entertained questions from the judges, who included professionals from the Veterans Administration, the American Psychological Association, the American Association for Retired Persons, and other organizations providing services to veterans.
A Winning Experience
The winning team said that the experience of being on the team—and winning—was one of the highlights of their time at American University.
“We all go to school, work, intern, volunteer, and still managed to find time to meet and create our program in just two weeks. Just about every night there was a group of us perfecting our slides and running new ideas by each other until the early morning hours,” said Stenson. “What made our team great was the leadership skills and team work we all brought to the table. Winning was definitely one of the biggest highlights from my AU career.”