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Students wrap up transformative week at Global Innovation Challenge

Global Innovation Challenge winning team "United Youth" (from left): Pemba Sherpa, Rosy Zel, Hemanta Adhikari and Nicole Little. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

By DAVID J. HILL

Published June 1, 2017

“Our larger vision has to do with the continuity of care and improving overall health and well-being, and the specific challenge we’ve taken on has to do with bridging that gap between Western and non-Western cultures of care.”
Korydon Smith, co-director
Community of Excellence for Global Health Equity

To develop their winning idea at this year’s Global Innovation Challenge, team United Youth looked to their own individual experiences for inspiration.

Two of the four group members — Hemanta Adhikari and Pemba Sherpa — are refugees from Nepal. Another, Rosy Zel, is an immigrant from Myanmar. All three freshmen understand the role education can play in the life of an immigrant, as well as how important social support systems are to helping newcomers adjust to life in America.

“We know the importance of education because the school system in our country was not that great. That was one of the reasons we moved to the United States. Ever since we were young, we saw education as way to get rid of poverty in the world,” Adhikari said.

United Youth, which also includes Nicole Little, who graduated with a bachelor’s in architecture in May, proposed a social support network for high school-aged refugee students in Buffalo, with a focus on International Prep, Lafayette and Riverside high schools because of their high concentration of refugee students and low graduation rate.

Arsalan Haghdel presents "The Undividables"' idea. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

“Our main goal is to facilitate a two-tier, social-support structure for newly arrived high school-aged refugees in order to improve both short-term health needs and positively influence long-term health needs,” Zel said.

These support networks will help high school-aged refugee students break through the non-academic barriers they face, including trauma they’ve experienced, bullying and feeling a loss of identity. “There are a lot of academic programs, but the graduation rate for refugees is still very low,” said Little, noting some of the other impediments newly arrived refugee high school students face.

The idea is to pair newly arrived refugee high school students with former refugees who can serve as mentors. In addition, group meetings will take place monthly to offer further support and guidance in an effort to bridge the gap between Western culture and the student’s native customs, especially when it comes to health and well-being.

In all, five groups presented ideas. United Youth won the overall award, while RHAT Pack won the Innovation Award.

This was the second annual Global Innovation Challenge. The event, which is sponsored by UB’s Community of Excellence for Global Health Equity, is an intensive, weeklong workshop where ideas to address a specific global health issue are developed, challenged, changed and refined.

“I know it’s been a really intense week,” CGHE Co-Director Pavani Ram told the student teams moments before the winners were announced Friday afternoon following the judges’ deliberation. “I think you can see what happens when you put numerous minds together from different disciplinary perspectives, how you can transform an idea and make it into something really new and bold.”

“Our larger vision has to do with the continuity of care and improving overall health and well-being, and the specific challenge we’ve taken on has to do with bridging that gap between Western and non-Western cultures of care,” added CGHE Co-Director Korydon Smith.

Students spent the first two days of the week hearing presentations from three GIC fellows — Grace Karambizi, Steven Sanyu and Saladi Shebule — and several guest UB faculty and community partner presenters. Next they formed groups and began formulating their ideas and pitches, receiving feedback and coaching from the fellows along the way. On Friday, each team pitched its idea to the judges.

A synopsis of each group’s idea:

"Language Access" team (from left): Ko Meh, Riyam Wannas and Harris Bresowsky. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

  • Language Access (Harris Bresowsky, Riyam Wannas and Ko Meh) proposed addressing the shortage of female interpreters in health care settings. “This is a huge problem. The absence of language access results in the use of untrained friends and family to address their needs, and in a lot of cases they use their children to interpret for them at their appointments,” Wannas explained.

"The Bridge" team (from left): Bianca Kohli, Chrys Terrado, Kellie Schmit, Rachel Daws and Dipesh Patel. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

  • The Bridge (Rachel Daws, Kellie Schmit, Bianca Kohli, Chrys Terrado and Dipesh Patel) wants to build bridges between a UB-based research team and the Syrian community in Buffalo to gain the Syrian refugee community’s perspectives on mental health issues that affect them. They propose using focus groups to produce qualitative data that can then be shared with area mental health care providers to increase their cultural competency.

"The Undividables" (from left): Arsalan Haghdel, Noshin Ahmed, Aye Ba Na Sa, Kathleen Lau, Sadat Khan, Anmol Bambrah and Ali Kayahan. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

  • The Undividables (Noshin Ahmed, Arsalan Haghdel, Sadat Khan, Aye Ba Na Sa, Kathleen Lau, Ali Kayahan and Anmol Bambrah) have developed an intervention aimed at bridging the cultural gap that exists between primary care physicians and their Arabic-speaking refugee patients in the Community Health Center of Buffalo. They propose doing this through an internship program called CARE for Refugees.

"Rhat Pack" won the Innovation Award. Team members (from left) Yasmein Okour, Mackenzie Vergason, Carol Nottingham and Salwa Alawneh present their idea. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

  • RHAT Pack (Carol Nottingham, Mackenzie Vergason, Salwa Alawneh and Yasmein Okour) created a smartphone app called the Refugee Health Access Tool. “Knowing that technology is an important part of our daily life, our goal is to harness this technology and information-sharing network to assist refugees in accessing culturally competent health care facilities,” Alawneh said.