U-M students to pitch innovative health, education solutions


A curriculum that helps link high school students to the professional world. A Web platform for people with the same illness to connect for support and information sharing. A redesigned food supply chain that seeks to minimize waste.

These are among the challenges student teams are tackling in the third year of the Innovation in Action program. What started as a competition for teams that had solutions to health problems has now expanded to include a second challenge for those who come up with educational ideas.  

It all comes down to one final pitch this week at each of two separate events for a handful of student teams representing 15 of U-M’s 19 schools and colleges that have been working together for five months.

“For two years we witnessed the power of passion- and cause-led entrepreneurship to move students beyond the boundaries of their disciplines and bind together to make the world a better, healthier place,” said Ann Verhey-Henke, managing director of innovation and social entrepreneurship. “This passion, in tandem with a focus on developing a deep understanding of the problem, creates a shared language to develop a public good.

“Our success with Innovation in Action in the public health context led us to wonder what would happen if we expanded the challenge that sparks student enthusiasm into other domains and topic areas. I am excited for the university community to see what these teams have come up with this year.”

The Education final will take place at 5-7 p.m. Wednesday in the School of Education Prechter Lab, Room 2202. The Public Health final will be at 5-7 p.m. Thursday at the Biomedical Science Research Building, Kahn Auditorium.

During the events, students will present their concepts to a panel of industry and educational experts, as they vie for a $10,000 top prize.   

Parisa Soraya, a graduate student at the School of Public Health, hopes her team’s project, called Ditto, will resonate with the judges. Ditto, which she hopes eventually will become a Web application, connects people with chronic conditions with those who have the same illness.

“Half of all adults have chronic illness and it’s invisible to most who know them,” Soraya said.

The team is testing the program out on the U-M campus by pairing people over coffee. Already some 50 students have identified as having a chronic condition, and three pairs already have been matched and have met. Winning the competition would mean the app could be funded for development.

“Regardless of the outcome of the competition, Innovation in Action leaders have given me the toolkit to attack any kind of problem,” said Soraya, whose public health degree is focused on chronic health management.

Nichole Pinkard, founder of the Digital Youth Network, a digital literacy program, and associate professor at DePaul University, will be a featured presenter at the education final. Vic Strecher, U-M professor of health behavior and health education, director of Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship and founder of JOOL Health, will speak at the public health event.  

Sponsors of the event include SPH, School of Education, Booz/Allen/Hamilton, U-M’s Third Century Initiative, GEM Healthcare, Arboretum Ventures, Wilbur J. Cohen Endowment Fund.


Leave a comment

Commenting is closed for this article. Please read our comment guidelines for more information.