Public Health Challenge: Reducing Gun Violence in St. Louis

Community Engagement; Public Health; Students

Washington University’s Institute for Public Health and Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship hosted a three-day immersive public health challenge at the Brown School, Sept. 16-19. The challenge invited multidisciplinary teams of students to develop social and entrepreneurial concepts to reduce gun violence in St. Louis.

More than a dozen students participated in the event, which included an ideation session and three different mentor panels, allowing students to hear directly from affected community members, community partners, and social and business innovation partners. Students who took part say the process was comprehensive and compelling, as they developed ideas for solutions into concrete business plans.

“Each panel brought a unique perspective and expertise, allowing us to approach the problem and develop solutions from different angles,” said Allison Poehler, an MPH student at the Brown School.

The weekend ended with the student teams presenting business ideas to a panel of judges, and three teams were awarded funding to further develop their ideas.

First Place – $1,000
Secure Gun Storage:
 Partnering with entertainment venues to provide secure gun storage.

  • Allison Poehler, Brown School, Master of Public Health
  • Victoria Assokom-Siakam, Arts & Sciences

Second Place – $750
Youth Developed, Youth Implemented:
 A youth-led organization that will develop and implement initiatives to reduce gun violence.

  • Will Friend, Arts & Sciences

Third Place – $500
Across the Arch:
 Using social media and other venues to build strong relationships between law enforcement and the community.

  • Christina Arzate, Brown School, Public Health
  • Hannah Sherrard, Brown School, Social Work
  • Kuan-lin Huang, Arts & Sciences, Bioinformatics

Additional teams developed ideas such as Clinton-Peabody Boys’ Club: Summer Experience, a summer program for adolescent boys in the Clinton-Peabody housing complex, and Plugged, a mobile application to engage individuals prone to suicidal ideation.

The student teams awarded funding will continue to refine their ideas with assistance from the Institute for Public Health, the Skandalaris Center and the Brown School’s Career Services.

Poli Rijos, MSW ’05, who coordinates the Institute for Public Health’s Gun Violence Initiative, explained that the Public Health Challenge provided a unique opportunity for graduate and undergraduate students to work together and provide potential solutions to this ongoing public health issue. Rijos planned the event with the support of MPH student Rosa Schulz, as well as two students from Washington University’s College of Arts & Sciences.

“We have a lot of really smart, innovative young people who come to WashU,” said William Powderly, who directs the Institute for Public Health. “We wanted to tap into that energy, initiative and out-of-the-box thinking.”