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Students competing in competition

Students Tackle Vaping Epidemic in Public Health Case Competition

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Written by Tori Forsheim on November 19, 2019

The challenge posed to competitors in this year’s public health case competition centered on vaping: develop a proposal for a $2 million grant, over three years, for a multi-disciplinary task force to develop an initiative aimed at addressing the youth vaping epidemic in Colorado.

Every November, graduate students studying public health, medicine, pharmacy, nursing and more come together to solve a big problem. The Rocky Mountain Public Health Case Competition provides teams of students with a current public health issue and a budget, and 24 hours later, the students present their project proposals for a chance to win bragging rights and scholarship money.

The participants were excited about the vaping topic, because it was easy to see direct applications and how important it was.

“I am glad they used this topic this year because it has become a serious issue in our country, and it felt very relevant to try and come up with a prevention/intervention plan to tackle it,” said Sophie Rosenberg, an epidemiology student in the Colorado School of Public Health (ColoradoSPH) at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

The Case Competition is designed to inspire participants to develop interdisciplinary solutions to public health problems. The 59 students competing this year represented all five schools at CU Anschutz and also included additional students from ColoradoSPH at Colorado State University.

Teams are assigned by event organizers to bring together students from different disciplines and concentrations, providing the opportunity for each participant to contribute their own expertise and perspective to holistic, far-reaching solutions.

Even the local public health community gets in on the action, with each team getting one hour of mentorship from a faculty member or local practitioner before facing the judges. This year, the final round judges were ColoradoSPH Dean Jon Samet; ColoradoSPH Assistant Professor Ashley Brooks-Russell; Natalya Verscheure, tobacco program manager at Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment; and State Reps. Colin Larson (District 22) and Kyle Mulica (District 34).

‘Breathe Better’ takes top prize

The first-place team proposed a prevention program called “Breathe Better” that pairs middle school students with high school mentors to teach coping skills for dealing with stress, peer pressure and other life challenges. Breathe Better is a 10-month enrichment program with five focus areas addressing the root causes of vaping: changing habits, dealing with peer pressure, stress management, physical activity and exploring areas of interest.

In addition to the yearly program budget, the team included $100,000 per year for lobbying for a vape bill tax, which would provide funding for the project after the initial grant. “I hadn't thought much before this about things like budget, lobbying and taxation law, which are things we included in our program and had a direct relation to public health in this case,” said team member Megan Jansson, an MPH student concentrating in physical activity and healthy lifestyles at ColoradoSPH at CSU.

The second-place team proposed “Youth Empowerment for Accountability in Health,” or Yeah!CO to develop a cell phone app that acts as a social media platform and delivers content that encourages teens to think about the issues surrounding vaping, such as the physical mechanics of addiction and the effect on mental health. The app is paired with classroom discussions to provide a space for teens to engage with the content from the app.

“One member had found this great quote by Lynn Hagger: ‘To listen and respond to children’s views, and encourage their involvement in decision-making will make them feel more respected and facilitate a sense of responsibility,’ and this was a guiding force in our project,” said Deepa Trivedi, an MPH student concentrating in health systems, management and policy at ColoradoSPH at CU Anschutz.

Teamwork and collaboration

Though many of the students competing originally decided to participate as a way of meeting new people, they came away from the competition having learned a lot about how to work in public health.

“I really learned the value of teamwork and collaboration. Even though the rest of my teammates were all from ColoradoSPH, we came from a pretty diverse set of backgrounds and experiences and were all in different concentrations,” said Trivedi.

Rosenberg agreed. “Participating made me appreciate working in a group. In a group you have support, and productive criticism makes everyone in the group grow as individuals and creates a well-developed and thought-out program,” she said.

The winning teams:

1st Place ($1,000 scholarship each): “Breathe Better Mentor Program”
Omar Alraddadi, ColoradoSPH @ CU Anschutz
Kyle Beekman, ColoradoSPH @ CU Anschutz
Keenan Douglas, Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences
Megan Jansson, ColoradoSPH @ CSU
Sophie Rosenberg, ColoradoSPH @ CU Anschutz

2nd Place ($500 scholarship each): “Youth Empowerment for Accountability in Health: Yeah!CO”
Ibrahim Hassanin, ColoradoSPH @ CU Anschutz
Yosely Ruiz, ColoradoSPH @ CSU
Matthew Schmidt, ColoradoSPH @ CU Anschutz
Yadiel Tesfaye, ColoradoSPH @ CU Anschutz
Deepa Trivedi, ColoradoSPH @ CU Anschutz

3rd Place ($250 scholarship each): “#BreakTheVape”
Lena Amad, ColoradoSPH @ CU Anschutz
Mattie Kerns, School of Medicine
Kristen Patrick, College of Nursing
Kayleigh Mydosh, Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences
Abhishek Rauniyar, ColoradoSPH @ CU Anschutz