Undergraduate team wins USC Global Health Case Competition

Competing against their peers, a team of multidisciplinary undergraduates won the USC Global Health Case Competition on Feb. 15 and will represent the university at the international level in March.

The annual cross-campus challenge, which began in 2012, is coordinated by the USC Institute for Global Health and a partnering organization — this year, it was the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Each year, the top team competes at the International Emory University Global Health Case Competition in Atlanta.

Morgan Cheeks, Priya Gupta, Payal Mukerji, Kevin Shen and Anupama Tadanki — all juniors studying at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and the USC Marshall School of Business are members of the winning team.

“I think this is one of the best opportunities to learn how to problem-solve, to form interdisciplinary teams and learn from multiple perspectives,” said participant Roee Astor, a senior in the Baccalaureate/MD program. “You can never learn just from your own discipline.”

That is precisely the purpose of the competition, according to Heather Wipfli, associate director of the USC Institute for Global Health.

“This event embodies both the institute’s mission statement and USC’s strategic vision to address interdisciplinary collaboration and connect students to real-world, global challenges,” said Wipfli, who noted that students from 11 USC schools registered for the event. “The case competition here and at Emory gives all students in diverse fields a stake in global health.”

By contending for first place with their peers, the students learned to collaborate with others under pressure.

Instead of handpicking a team to go to Emory University — which some universities, in fact, do — USC leaves it up to the students, which motivates them to think creatively, said Wipfli, who will prepare the winning team before the students go to Atlanta.

On competition day, 20 teams presented simultaneously to several rooms of USC faculty and expert judges at the Soto Street Building on the Health Sciences Campus.

Four days earlier, the students received the case, which was written by the USC Institute for Global Health and the CDC’s Influenza Division.

The case asked teams to design and present strategic plans to increase global vaccine supply and use in low- and middle-income countries. Each team needed to establish a sustainable business model that would promote increased vaccine production, research and development by the pharmaceutical industry.

The winning presentation proposed the “Shot 4 Shot” campaign, a pilot program based in Ethiopia. Taking advantage of the country’s active coffee economy, the team presented a five-year plan focusing on building partnerships, community engagement, vaccine distribution and an interactive SMS flu surveillance system.

Several CDC officials tuned in remotely to judge the competition, including Joseph Bresee, epidemiology and prevention branch chief; Ann Moen, associate director of the Extramural Influenza Program; and epidemiologist Sara Mirza.

Judges in attendance included Steven Teutsch, chief science officer of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health; Duc Vugia, chief of the Infectious Diseases Branch at the California Department of Public Health; Carol Teutsch, medical consultant at the Johnson & Johnson Health Care Institute; and Jonathan Samet, director of the USC Institute for Global Health and chair of the USC Department of Preventive Medicine

“Global health classes usually involve the study of the past and present, but this case competition allowed us to take part in the future by providing a solution for a real-time problem,” Gupta said, after her team won. “It was a truly amazing learning experience, and we’re really looking forward to learn from an even more diverse group when we travel to Emory.”

Gupta and her teammates will compete at Emory University on March 23 for a chance to win $6,000. During their trip, the students will also tour CDC headquarters and meet the judges who observed their presentation at USC.