Students Across Disciplines Team Up to Solve Global Health Problems

Photo By Ashwin Sangareddypeta | Mercury Staff

Two students launched UTD’s first-ever Interdisciplinary Global Health Case Competition, a contest where students across different schools come together to solve health crises affecting society.

The competition, pioneered by policy junior Nandita Kumar and finance junior Avinash Chivakula, drew over 140 people, three times more than expected. Student teams were given a case on a health issue in society and presented their case solutions to judges. Anjana Mahadevan, Fagun Shah, Meghana Vadlamudi, Nicolas Hermoza and Riya Thomas won the competition and will be the first team in UTD’s history to compete in the Emory Morningside Global Health Case Competition.

For this year’s case challenge, students had to develop health action plans for the specific circumstances of indigenous people. Students had to pick one of three indigenous groups — the Navajo, Rohingya or Inuit — and create a health care action plan addressing a specific health category such as maternal health, child physical health, etc. This includes long-term sustainable strategies to improve the health of the population, policy initiatives to reach said goal and allocations for $6 million of funding. Mahadevan, an economics freshman on the pre-law track, said her group focused on the Rohingya, an indigenous group who have met genocide at the hands of the government of Myanmar. Mahadevan said that as a result, many Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh as refugees, where they live in densely populated camps without access to education, Internet or work licenses.

“In addition, there’s high death rates of parents,” Mahadevan said. “So, you have a lot of orphans here and child-led families … So they really have no way of building any sort of self -sustainable economy or educating their youth and giving them economic skills. So that’s something we wanted to address.”

Hermoza, a neuroscience sophomore, specified they wanted their group’s plan to address the mental and physical health of the refugees.

“We wanted to work with children because there’s about 550,000 children who just went through a terrible past and they’re going through a lot of mental health issues,” Hermoza said. “But there are very little resources there to help them.”

Kumar, a public planning sophomore and the case competition planning chair, said one of her goals for the competition was to make it interdisciplinary, as diverse skill sets will be essential to solving world problems. To compete, each team needed students from at least 3 different academic schools.

“A lot of us are pre-med, so we had a very science-based approach,” Shah said. “But then when we discussed with our fifth person, she gives us a lot of insights into what we can do on the policy side … And it helped me realize that any global health problem … it’s not just science-based, but there’s a lot of policy that goes into it.”

Kumar said they wanted their judges to be from multiple professional disciplines as well. One judge was Pallavi Patil, a physician who specializes in surgical pathology.

“It was really good for the students to be exposed to these kinds of challenges early on in their training,” Patil said. “That also enhances their perspective into larger needs at a worldwide level, and it might give them a more holistic exposure depending on what further education they go into.”

Kumar, who spearheaded the process of creating the competition with Chivakula, said she was proud to be behind the planning of the event.

“I’m also really excited to see how this continues on and how UTD can bring more interdisciplinary opportunities … ’cause we’ve historically just been a STEM school …. It was very a surreal moment on that day … And I can’t believe I was a part of that … And I’m really happy with how everything turned out for our first year.”

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