U-M students compete to find innovative solutions to public health challenges

March 11, 2015
  • umichnews@umich.edu

Update: March 18, 2015 Winning Entries

Graphic containing text: Innovation in Action: Solutions to public health challenges. Final Showcase Thursday, March 12. 2015ANN ARBOR—Efforts to get healthier food choices for Detroit residents have proven somewhat successful in recent years with the opening of grocery stores and small markets, but one major obstacle still stands in the way of families getting access to fresh, nutritious food.

“We listened to a lot of people and kept hearing that transportation is a big issue,” said Christine Priori, a student at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health and Ross School of Business.

Priori is a member of a team that came up with a solution as part of the second annual Innovation in Action, a School of Public Health student competition.

The Fresh Fare group is one of 13 multidisciplinary student teams that have found high-, low- and no-tech solutions for health problems related to diabetes, improper nutrition, mental illness, dental care access, continuity of care and more.

In cooperation with local grocers, transportation services and the Fair Food Network, which offers incentives for the purchase of healthy food, Fresh Fare worked out a ride-sharing program. It allows residents to get to and from stores and not have to worry about how they’ll carry bags of groceries on foot or from bus stops.

“When you have to walk a mile to and from work, that may be okay, but not when you’re carrying groceries,” said School of Public Health student Ali Jensen. “We talk a lot about how providing a rideshare is providing them independence. It’s giving them a ride to a store so that they can choose.”

Their project already has been piloted in some areas of Detroit.

“I am so excited about this new Innovation in Action year. It is our second year now, and we learned a lot from the first year and we have some incredible teams,” said Vic Strecher, director for innovation and social entrepreneurship and professor of health behavior and health education at the School of Public Health.

The groups, which have been working for almost six months now, will showcase their projects and compete for cash prizes 6-8 p.m. March 12 at “Innovation in Action: Solutions to Public Health Problems” in Room 1690, School of Public Health 1.

“Our hope is that not just the five teams that make it to the final pitch but all the 13 teams that made it to the end will take their solutions out into the world,” said Ann Verhey-Henke, associate director of innovation and social entrepreneurship at the School of Public Health. “It is a stellar group of students and I am excited to see where they take their innovations next.”

Another team’s innovation to address a growing health concern among Michigan’s Native American population does not involve technology but the students said it is the right approach to raise awareness about diabetes in this community that has twice the incidence of the disease as the non-Hispanic white adult population.

The solution: a culturally tailored diabetes community group modeled after the traditional Native American talking circle.

“This community virtually has no access to technology so we needed a low cost, low tech solution,” said Ashley Shar, a student at the U-M College of Pharmacy.

“Even if they had cell phones, nothing beats face-to-face in this community,” said fellow College of Pharmacy student Stephanie Burke.

Some of the solutions are high tech. One project, Change of Mind, offers a community-based mobile toolkit for individuals suffering from anxiety.

“Almost 50 percent of patients seeking psychotherapy drop out of their first encounter with clinicians,” said Sean Ma, a research fellow in the U-M Department of Psychiatry. “We want to increase patients’ engagement by giving users progress tracking, social support and interactive exercises through our mobile application. Our innovation really shines through our algorithm that provides individuals mental well-being insights using data collected from our app.”

The Innovation in Action event highlights the work of multidisciplinary teams from the School of Public Health, School of Information, Ross School of Business, College of Pharmacy, School of Natural Resources and Environment, Medical School, College of Engineering and College of Literature, Science and the Arts.

At the March 12 event, student teams will not only showcase their projects, but four of them will win $10,000, $7,500, $5,000 and $1,000. Sponsors include Booz Allen Hamilton, ChemRisk, GemTies, Northrop Grumman, U-M Innovate Blue, MedStar Health and Arboretum Ventures.

The goal of the program, which was first organized last year, is to empower students to innovate solutions that address public health problems while creating a safe environment to take risks and move beyond the classroom.

Update: March 18, 2019

The winning entries were:

  • 1st Place: LivPoz, a mobile app for HIV patients to manage their medications and maintain a healthy, positive mindset.
  • 2nd Place: Fresh Fare, a solution to a debilitating barrier to food access—reliable transportation—that provides an interface between grocery retailers and a rideshare program.
  • 3rd Place: TIE Chop Chop and HOME
    • Chop Chop is a healthy “grab-n-go” dinner kit, complete with a recipe and the fresh, seasonal pre-measured ingredients necessary to prepare a healthy meal.
    • HOME is a culturally tailored diabetes community group modeled after the traditional Native American talking circle.


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