Students Present Innovative Global Health Solutions in Competition

Global Health Case Competition

Eight teams of undergraduate and graduate students participated in Northwestern University’s first Global Health Case Competition Saturday, Feb. 15, each giving a 15-minute presentation on how to decrease pneumonia-related deaths in newborn to 5-year-old children in Uganda. Medill junior Emily Drewry (far left) shared her experience of being part of the team that won the competition. Her team received a $1,000 award and will represent Northwestern at the Emory competition in March.

The competition was modeled after a similar event held annually at Emory University and organized by Kate Klein, a masters of public health student and assistant director of the Program of African Studies at Northwestern. Through the process, students are given the opportunity to engage with individuals in other fields, all toward the common goal of realistic experience in understanding global health interventions.

For the week leading up to the competition, 40 undergraduate and graduate students, split into teams that represented three Northwestern schools, got to know the details of our case, preparing to impress the judges with a solution that aimed to be innovative, realistic and, overall, successful. I was thrilled to be participating in the event—I am constantly trying to make the most of every experience I come across at Northwestern, and this competition seemed to offer the perfect mix of challenge and insight that I couldn’t pass up.

The work that went into creating our presentation certainly wasn’t easy and was even exasperating at times. But it was real, perhaps the most real opportunity I’ve had since coming to Northwestern.

When we filed into Harris L08 on Saturday morning, with a completed case and hours of waiting ahead, I was able to reflect on the experience as a whole. I was terrified to present to the judges—these three women are professionals at UNICEF and USAID and are the people we all aspire to be. How could we possibly impress them? In retrospect, the reason I was afraid to present was the very same reason I needed to embrace the experience, and the reason I am so grateful to Northwestern for giving us this opportunity.

As I spoke with a peer early on in the day, I expressed that I was intimidated by how established many of the participants were. “But here’s the thing,” she responded. “We know so much.” My first inclination was to disagree, but then it dawned on me. We as individuals know what we have learned in our three or four years at this incredible institution—but we as teams know so much more.

I could not have asked for a better result. I am so honored to be a part of the team that will be representing Northwestern at the Emory competition next month. But beyond the results of the competition was a bigger success. It took the form of a life lesson I won’t be forgetting for a long time.

The theme of the weekend wasn’t competition. It was collaboration. Though our goal was to create a viable situation, the work each participant put into the weekend was reciprocated two-fold in opportunity. We put an incredible amount of time into the case itself, learning about pneumonia, Uganda and past public health efforts. I am so proud of the final result my team presented to the judges, but I am prouder of the comfort I now feel, knowing that so many talented individuals out there will one day be presenting these solutions to real donors and make real impacts.

In his closing remarks, Michael Diamond stressed the same point that I had arrived at by the end of the day. “Collaboration,” he said, “as we all know, does not come easily.”

Neither do the solutions to global health problems. But, after this weekend, I am confident that members of the eight participating teams will be part of the movements that, with dedicated efforts and innovative ideas, will go on to change the world.

A huge thank you goes out to Program in African Studies, Office for International Program Development, the Buffett Center and the Center for Global Health for sponsoring the event, as well as to Noelle Sullivan and my teammates for being incredibly patient and supportive throughout the weekend.

The winning team, consisted of Suvai Gunasekaran and Smitha Sarma, Emily Drewry from the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, and Grace Jaworski and Pooja Garg from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Suvai, Smitha, Emily, and Pooja will head to Atlanta in March to compete with students from 24 other universities.

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