Hacking public health: Promoting student collaboration for public health innovation

Members of team Swage brainstorm ideas
Members of team Swage brainstorm ideas

April 30, 2019—The first-ever hackathon at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health drew more than 100 students from across Harvard and area colleges to a one-day event focused on developing solutions to public health challenges. Held April 20, the event was organized by the Public Health Innovation x Technology (PHIT) Student Forum.

A hackathon is a time-bound collaborative competition where people from different backgrounds come together to learn, build, and share their creations in a supportive setting. In this case, teams developed ideas that could be turned into real world initiatives. They focused on a wide range of public health challenges, including diabetes management in immigrant communities, and eye health screenings in rural India.

Inspired by MIT’s Hacking Medicine Grand Hack, PHIT members said they wanted to introduce the concept to Harvard Chan School. Most PHIT team members and hackathon registrants were new to the idea, so the team designed materials to show them what to expect and how to hack successfully.

Members of team Welcome to the Neighborhood
Members of team Welcome to the Neighborhood: Ahdab Eskandar, Marina Teixeira, Laura Amweg, Sravanthy Gumidyala, Kaitlyn Lew

Members of PHIT said that they were committed from the beginning to cultivating a dynamic, inclusive, and innovative environment that reflects the diversity of public health and challenges the lack of diversity of most hackathons. To help achieve this, they used a targeted recruitment strategy that attracted graduate and undergraduate students with a variety of lived experiences and disciplines from across Harvard and other colleges in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Participants were 74% people of color, 62% women, 46% immigrant, 18% first-generation college students, and 11% LGBTQ.

eye Robot team members
eye Robot team members Jay Chandra, Sreekar Mantena, Xiyu Ding, Sheryl Chen, Sabina Stefan

Attendees worked within three tracks representing public health challenges: Social Determinants of Health, Engaging Patients in Preventive Care, and Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare. In the first part of the day, the students self-organized into 22 teams based on interests and backgrounds. Later, they huddled with their teams to formulate and develop their plans. Throughout the day, they attended workshops where they learned about design thinking, artificial intelligence, developing business plans, and pitching.

The event culminated in pitches to a panel of judges representing leaders in Boston’s public health sector, and an awards presentation. It was funded by the Sastry Harvard iLab and Innovation Fund, Partners HealthCare Pivot Labs, and Deloitte.

Tariana V. Little is a member of PHIT

– Photos: courtesy of PHIT

Other PHIT members include Emily Caplan, Kenan Courtney, Tony Gallanis, Daniel Pedrini, Aonia Traxler, Molly Lowry Whittle

Winning teams and the projects they developed:

Social Determinants of Health track
1st: Swage: Rethinking Diabetes Management
Bahareh Rasouli (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health), Joemma Berberich (Harvard Kennedy School of Government), Tajah Tubbs (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health), Akosua Adu-Boahene (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health-incoming)

2nd: Designing Shelters for Dignity
Elena Clarke (Harvard Graduate School of Design), Laila Fozouni (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health), Eli Godwin (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health-incoming), Alex Li (University of Massachusetts Boston)

HEAL (Health Equity and Leadership award): Tie—Swage: Rethinking Diabetes Management, and Designing Shelters for Dignity

3rd: CoNexus
Muniba Ahmad (Harvard Graduate School of Design), Ada G. Avila (Boston University), Joy Madubuonwu (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health), Sabah Usmani (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Engaging Patients in Preventive Health track
1st+ HEAL award: Welcome to the Neighborhood
Ahdab Eskandar (University of Massachusetts Boston), Marina Teixeira (University of Massachusetts Boston), Laura Amweg (University of Massachusetts Boston), Sravanthy Gumidyala (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health), Kaitlyn Lew (Brown University)

2nd: Onere
Hawa Cherif (Pine Manor College), Shreya Iyer (Boston University), Jacob Keteyian (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health), Beatriz Vasconcellos de Araujo (Harvard Kennedy School of Government)

3rd: Medbooth
Shouvik Das (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Ta-wei Lin (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health), Shannon Linderman (Boston University), David Ma (Harvard College), Samuel Mendez (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

AI in Healthcare track
1st+HEAL award: eyeRobot
Jay Chandra (Harvard College), Sreekar Mantena (Harvard College), Xiyu Ding (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health), Sheryl Chen (Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management), Sabina Stefan (Brown University)

2nd: Diaploy
Isaac Acquah (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health), Sonja Eliason (Harvard College), Backtosch Mustafa (Harvard Medical School), Ashley Shaw (Harvard Business School),

3rd: fluClue
Cassandra Bates (Harvard Graduate School of Education), Chelsea Han (Harvard Graduate School of Education), Tuan Nguyen (Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences), Shailen Sampath (Brown University)