ASPPH logo


Student & Alumni Achievements

Student & Alumni Achievements

Michigan Students Compete to Find Innovative Solutions to Public Health Challenges

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.

[Photo: Dr. Vic Strecher]

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

Ms. 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 Ms. 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 Dr. 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 worked for almost six months, showcased their projects and competed for cash prizes at “Innovation in Action: Solutions to Public Health Problems” on March 12.

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 Ms. Ashley Shar, a student at the U-M College of Pharmacy.

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 not only showcased their projects, but four teams won $10,000, $7,500, and two $5,000 awards. Sponsors included Booz Allen Hamilton, ChemRisk, GemTies, Northrop Grumman, U-M Innovate Blue, MedStar Health and Arboretum Ventures.

The goal of the program, which is now in its second 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.

The winning entries were:

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.

To read more and see a video of the project, click here.