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Ohio University students Seth Baker, Kate Clausen, Noah Rosenblatt and Morgan Stanley meet with advisers to Guyana President David Granger.

Photo courtesy of: Morgan Stanley

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Ohio University’s second annual Global Health Case Competition begins with a kickoff event scheduled for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23, in Grover Center E205.

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(From left) Seth Baker, Morgan Stanley, Kate Clausen, James Calvin and Tania Basta pose for a photo during their trip to Guyana in August.

Photo courtesy of: Tania Basta

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From Guyana to MIT to the NSF, winners of Global Health Case Competition presented a world of opportunities

As Ohio University prepares to kick off its second annual Global Health Case Competition (see sidebar), the winners of last year’s competition continue to reap a world of opportunities and a renewed passion for learning as a result of their winning proposal.

Last November, four Ohio University undergraduates beat out 14 teams of students from throughout the University to take top honors in OHIO’s first-ever Global Health Case Competition. A new addition to the University’s International Education Week festivities, the competition challenged students to research a particular health issue and develop an innovation solution to that issue – with the winning team awarded a trip abroad to implement their strategy in collaboration with partners from the host country.

During last year’s competition, students were tasked with tackling the incidence of malaria and other vector-borne diseases in Guyana, a concern identified by health officials in that country. 

Undergraduates Seth Baker, Kate Clausen, Noah Rosenblatt and Morgan Stanley decided to put the skills they gained through OHIO’s Global Leadership Center to the test and entered the competition. One of the only teams in the competition not to include a student studying medicine, global health or science, the foursome spent the two weeks allotted for the competition researching the issue, conducting interviews and drafting their winning proposal. Titled “Anopheles Vector Control in Guyana: A Multi-Faceted Strategic Plan through Eucalyptus Trees, Carbon Nanoparticles and Student Collaboration,” the proposal presents not only a holistic, long-term and environmentally-friendly strategy for addressing vector-borne disease in Guyana but also an opportunity to create jobs in the South American country.

“We all sat down with the case and started looking up different avenues for combatting vector-borne disease,” explained Clausen. “We found that each avenue we discovered really resonated with one of us.”

Stanley, who graduated from OHIO in May with a bachelor’s degree in political science and is now pursuing her master’s degree in political science at the University, focused her research efforts on eucalyptus trees, which have been used historically to combat malaria due to the large of amounts of water – breeding grounds for mosquitoes – that they consume. 

Clausen, a senior in OHIO’s Honors Tutorial College who is studying organizational communication studies, discovered the role carbon nanoparticles had the potential to play. Produced through the burning of wood wool into a charred substance that is then treated, relatively new research suggests that introducing carbon nanoparticles into standing water helps to diminish the mosquito population at the larval stage. 

Rosenblatt, also a senior in the Honors Tutorial College who is studying finance and entrepreneurship, worked on the funding and business aspects of the proposal and developed a thorough budget for their strategy.

Baker, who graduated from OHIO in May with a degree in communication studies and sociology, examined the sociological aspects of their proposal, determining how their recommendations would affect the general public and be received by the government and noting the ways in which their solutions could benefit the country in other ways.

Rosenblatt described the evening when their entire plan came together: “I remember we were in a classroom with a big chalkboard scribbling down all of our ideas. … We basically saw all the different facets of our plan working together in one continuous cycle – you could see how it all connected.”

Their multi-faceted proposal calls for: 

  • The strategic planting of eucalyptus trees to decrease the amount of standing water in areas at high risk for vector-borne illness
  • The harvesting of those trees on a routine basis to prevent the trees from adversely affecting native tree species
  • The use of wood from the harvested eucalyptus trees to produce carbon nanoparticles, which will then be applied to standing water for additional vector control. 

The plan also recommends developing research collaborations between Ohio University and entities in Guyana, building on OHIO’s more than 30-year partnership with the University of Guyana, and launching study abroad programs that would allow OHIO students to travel to Guyana to help implement a sustainable system for improving and maintaining Guyana’s drainage systems.

“When we first started this competition, it kind of felt like every other project we’ve ever worked on,” Stanley admitted. 

After the team won, however, reality set in and the realm of possibilities for their proposal began to unfold in the form of requests for interviews, phone calls from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), job offers and increased recognition.

In March, Rosenblatt was presented TechGROWTH Ohio’s Outstanding Student in Innovation Award for the business model he created to implement their proposal in Guyana.

Shortly thereafter, Rosenblatt received a phone call from an MIT administrator who oversees the institution’s competitive programs and awards. The OHIO students’ proposal had popped up on her Google search, and she contacted Rosenblatt to invite the team to participate in the Lemelson-MIT National Collegiate Student Prize Competition, which recognizes teams of undergraduates and individual graduate students for their inventiveness. 

“That was certainly a ‘wow’ moment for me,” said Rosenblatt. “They invited us to come out and basically pitch our idea to them at an inventor’s challenge against some of the best and brightest in the country. It’s a nationwide competition, and it’s MIT!”

Rosenblatt is working with a professor in the College of Business to navigate all the logistics of entering the competition and is hopeful that they will be competing at MIT next spring.

Stanley’s a-ha moment came shortly after graduating this past May when she applied for an entry-level administrative position with the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Washington, D.C. 

“I was just trying to get my foot in the door anywhere,” Stanley explained. “They offered me a research position in their engineering department. I told the woman on the phone this is really great and I want this job, but I don’t know if I’m qualified for this. She said, ‘Well, they read all your research online.’

“That was probably the most-exciting day of my summer,” Stanley said. “Just the fact that I received a job offer from a place that historically does not offer anyone a job straight out of college.”

Stanley turned down the job offer from the NSF in order to participate in the last step in the Global Health Case Competition – the trip to Guyana to begin implementing their proposal. 

“We’ve never taken our projects anywhere beyond the classroom,” Stanley said. “It had become real.”

Baker, Clausen and Stanley spent two weeks in Guyana this August; Rosenblatt joined them for the second week due to a scheduling conflict with his summer internship. They were accompanied by Tania Basta, an associate professor in OHIO’s College of Health Sciences and Professions, and Calvin James, associate professor in the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine and a native of Guyana. Basta and James served as co-chairs of the Global Health Case Competition Committee. 

“The purpose of our trip was to create relationships that would allow the project to continue on into the future,” explained Clausen.

Vibert Cambridge, professor emeritus of OHIO’s School of Media Arts and Studies and a native of Guyana, was instrumental in arranging a number of meetings between the OHIO delegation and government officials. The students met with representatives from the U.S. Embassy in Guyana and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as well as individuals from Guyana’s office of the president, the Guyana Environmental Protection Agency and the Ministries of Health, Education, Natural Resources and Agriculture. Recognizing the potential impact of the proposed project, several government representatives then opened the door for the team to meet with other key government agencies.

During each of the meetings, James would explain the purpose of the visit – to begin a partnership between Ohio University, the University of Guyana and the government of Guyana – before the students presented their proposal and then asked and answered questions.

According to Stanley, one of the group’s last meetings was with Guyana’s Minister of Natural Resources who, after hearing the students’ proposal, picked up the phone and contacted several government officials urging them to move forward with the proposal and assist the OHIO students in their research.

The students also conducted public forums to share their proposal and gather input from the Guyanese citizens. 

“Our goal was to gain support and to get buy-in from a variety of individuals and entities in Guyana,” said Clausen. “I think we accomplished that and much more and really immersed ourselves in this new experience and culture.”

The students will be meeting with Basta and Calvin in the near future to discuss what has happened since the students left Guyana, to explore action items designed to move the project forward, and to find out what their role in the future of the project might be. 

In the meantime, the students are focused on the possible outcomes of their research and their proposal and mindful of how this experience has been life-changing.

“It’s really hard to think at this point in your life about how you are going to make an impact, how you’re going to leave an impact at this university and in your life, and about how you are going to use your life in an effective way,” Clausen said. “To be able to travel to Guyana and impact a whole country and potentially help Ohio University and Guyana be a place of research for ways to eradicate malaria is an amazing opportunity and very weird to talk about. It’s really hard to accept that what we did is that important, but when you think about it, it has that potential, and I know I did something good. … No task is too daunting now.”

For Rosenblatt and Stanley, the Global Health Case Competition and everything that has resulted from it has left them with a renewed passion for learning.

“Everything I know about this project today, I didn’t know a year ago,” Rosenblatt explained. “None of us had taken science classes since high school, and we had to teach ourselves and learn from one another. … This competition really inspired us to enjoy learning and to continue learning because it’s the people in our society who understand the importance of learning and who really want to learn that you see changing the world or solving problems.”

When asked if they had any advice for students considering entering this year’s competition, Clausen simply said, “Try it. You get one chance at college; don’t pass up opportunities.”

This year’s Global Health Case Competition kicks off Sept. 23

Ohio University’s second annual Global Health Case Competition begins this week with a kickoff event scheduled for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23, in Grover Center E205.

Open to undergraduate and graduate students from all of OHIO’s campuses, the Global Health Case Competition challenges students to work in interdisciplinary four-person teams to research a complex, real-world global health issue and to develop an innovative solution to that issue. Members of the winning team are awarded sponsored travel to participant in an overseas global health activity in which they will examine the feasibility of implementing their solution in collaboration with partners from the host country, including teams from the host country’s universities who will compete on the same case in November. 

During the Sept. 23 kickoff event, students interested in participating in the competition will have the opportunity to meet the competition organizers and to speak with other students interested in forming a team. Team must be registered for the competition by 5 p.m. Monday, Oct. 12, with registration forms available by clicking here

The case details as well as competition rules and guidelines will be released at 8 a.m. Monday, Oct. 19. Teams will then have until 8 a.m. Monday, Nov. 2, to deliver their case solution.

The top six teams will be asked to present their projects during the Case Competition Day, which will be held Thursday, Nov. 19, during Ohio University’s International Education Week. The winning team will be announced during an awards ceremony that evening.

Overseas travel for the winning team is expected to occur next June. 

For more information about the Global Health Case Competition, click here

The Global Health Case Competition is sponsored by OHIO’s Global Health Initiative, a partnership of the College of Health Sciences and Professions and the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, in collaboration with the Center for International Studies.