The Latest

USU Interdisciplinary team wins DC Public Health Case Challenge Harrison C. Spencer Prize

People pose for a group photo
By Sharon Holland

A plan to help communities “CEASE” smoking earned a Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences interdisciplinary team one of four prizes awarded during the 2018 D.C. Public Health Case Challenge. The challenge, co-sponsored by the National Academy of Medicine’s Kellogg Health of the Public Fund and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Roundtable on Population Health Improvement, with support from the Global Forum on Innovation in Health Professional Education, aims to promote interdisciplinary, problem-based learning around a public health issue of importance to the Washington, D.C., community.

Six girls on various parts of a larger than life Einstein statue
The team, (left to right), Navy Lt.Cmdr. Shawna Grover, Air Force
Maj. Tonya Spencer and Guzal Khayrullina, Navy Lt. Breda
Jenkins, Navy Ens. Michelle Mandeville, Army 2nd Lt. Vidya
Lala, was awarded the Harrison C. Spencer Interprofessional
Prize. (Courtesy photo)
This year’s challenge topic was “Reducing Disparities in Cancer and Chronic Disease: Preventing Tobacco Use in African-American Adolescents.” USU’s team, made up of students from the F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine, Daniel K. Inouye Graduate School of Nursing, and the School of Medicine’s Graduate Program in Biomedical Sciences, competed against six teams from the Washington, D.C., area, including Howard University, George Washington University, University of Maryland Baltimore, the U.S. Naval Academy, and American University. Each team was composed of three to six members from at least three disciplines.

The competitors were given two weeks to develop a solution to the complex problem with a hypothetical $2.5 million budget to be used during a five-year span. The teams presented their solutions to a panel of expert judges, and each was evaluated on the interdisciplinary nature of their response, feasibility of implementation, creativity, and practicality.

Each year, USU’s Global Health Interest Group helps to organize a team for the competition. This year’s participants, Shawna Grover, Breda Jenkins, Guzal Khayrullina, Vidya Lala, Michelle Mandeville, and Tonya Spencer, received the case on September 28, and spent the following two weeks developing their solution for presentation on October 14 at the National Academy of Sciences. U.S. Public Health Service Capt. (Dr.) Darrell Singer served as their faculty mentor and advisor.

The USU team’s Community Empowerment and Advocacy for Smoke-Free Environments (CEASE) solution was awarded the Harrison C. Spencer Interprofessional Prize. CEASE used a transcreation framework to address the case problem with a multifaceted approach through schools, the community, the media, and policies.

The team poses for a group photo
Left to Right: Navy Lt. Breda Jenkins (GSN DNP Family Nurse Practitioner ‘21), Air Force Maj. Tonya Spencer (GSN PhD ‘20), Navy Ens. Michelle Mandeville (SOM ‘21), Navy Lt.Cmdr. Shawna Grover (GSN PhD ‘20), Army 2nd Lt. Vidya Lala (SOM ‘21) and Guzal Khayrullina (Neuroscience PhD candidate) represented the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences at the 2018 DC Public Health Case Challenge, bringing home the Harrison C. Spencer Interprofessional Prize, for their “Community Empowerment and Advocacy for Smoke-free Environments” project. (Courtesy photo)

CEASE places adolescents at the center of their structure with overarching community support derived from local universities, churches, families and existing programs. A key component of the program is a community-appointed liaison group to collaborate with community leaders to enhance established programs and implement new initiatives. The liaison team then analyzes the outcomes of the interventions, in conjunction with the prevalence of smoking in the community, to evaluate the effectiveness of each component. CEASE’s proposal impacts all aspects of the social ecological model from individual to community and organization to policy levels.

The following recommendations were developed based upon the potential areas of growth identified by members of the Ward 8 community in Washington, D.C.:

  • Implement a peer-to-peer mentorship program at Ballou High School to change the attitudes towards smoking at the elementary and middle school levels
  • Augment Rehoboth Baptist Church’s health fair with a tobacco cessation booth and establishing an annual health fair organized by Congress Heights Community Center
  • Initiate a social media campaign to portray culturally-sensitive, grotesque images of the effects of smoking that reflect the community’s African American population
  • Develop partnerships with local, state and national organizations to advocate for policy changes to promote tobacco cessation


“After the competition the case writers meet with community members and organizations that were referenced in their presentation to discuss possible changes. Occasionally pieces of some of the projects are incorporated into some of the wards after these discussions, but often this project is more of an exercise to consider ways to make an impact in the D.C. community,” said Lala, an Army 2nd lieutenant and USU School of Medicine student. “As a group, however, we talked about possibly continuing interactions with Ballou High School in order to build a rapport and hopefully implement some positive mentorship programs between their school and USU.”