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Health-innovation challenge encourages students to rethink barriers to care
Students participating in the GSK Innovation Challenge through StartUP FIU, from left: computer science major Rey Marasigan, computer science major Danny Lawrence, biochemistry major Marianela Lobaina Hassa

Health-innovation challenge encourages students to rethink barriers to care

StartUP FIU and a global pharmaceutical company bring together entrepreneurial undergraduates to address disparities

January 26, 2023 at 4:45pm

By Irene Ferradaz

Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhumane.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Guided by its core principle that social entrepreneurship is the key to solving our world’s toughest issues, StartUP FIU is proud to announce the GSK Innovation Challenge, a student-led, experiential learning program sponsored by pharmaceutical giant GSK to tackle health disparities in underserved communities.

“We are thrilled to partner with one of the world’s best-known pharmaceutical companies to give students the opportunity to tackle the persistent issues of health disparities in a real-world scenario,” says Emily Gresham, assistant vice president for research, innovation and economic development and co-founder of StartUP FIU. “By working with world-renown experts and mentors in the fields of population health, pharmaceuticals, data modeling and more, our dynamic students will have all the support they need to apply their creativity and novel perspectives to break down these complex barriers to health equity.”

GSK creates, manufactures and markets medicines and health care products internationally and ranks as one of the largest firms by total sales in the pharmaceutical industry.

The 12-week challenge began Jan. 19 and focuses on shingles, a virus one-third of U.S. adults will develop in their lifetime. Anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk for shingles, and complications from the virus increase as a person ages. In addition to developing a painful rash, those with shingles can also develop blindness, pneumonia, hearing problems and brain inflammation and can even die from the disease.

The GSK Innovation Challenge gathers roughly 30 FIU students across multiple disciplines, such as computer science, psychology, chemistry and marketing, to learn about the underlying causes of health disparities and come up with ideas to reduce them. Utilizing the design-thinking framework, students will form teams and be guided by industry experts, FIU faculty and StartUP FIU staff to conduct a series of interviews with community members, doctors and pharmacists. Once students have insight into the problem, they will work toward developing solutions and then test their ideas by again conducting interviews within the community.

“There are so many social and cultural factors that impact health disparities,” says Maya Martinez-Davis, president, U.S. GSK.  “Our collaboration with FIU students, many of whom hail from underserved communities themselves, allows us to better understand existing barriers to healthcare and develop creative solutions to more effectively address them.”

By partnering with FIU, a majority-minority institution, the GSK Innovation Challenge has gathered a team of entrepreneurially minded and intellectually curious students who, in some cases, have personally experienced the challenges and barriers commonly faced by those in the Black, Hispanic, Asian and other traditionally underserved communities. By guiding students to better understand health disparities and teaching them to look at these challenges in a new way, the GSK Innovation Challenge aims to improve health outcomes for communities across the nation and integrate a new generation into being part of the solution. 

Notably, FIU is a leader in investigating health disparities and related outcomes, with millions in funding from the National Institutes of Health supporting the Research Center in a Minority Institution at FIU (FIU-RCMI), which focuses on community-partnered research and training.

Students participating in the challenge will receive internship credit, the opportunity to learn from leaders and experts in the healthcare industry and $1,000 each for their efforts. The skills acquired while working with a globally recognized pharmaceutical company will help to prepare the students for future endeavors.

“I was really interested in the GSK Innovation Challenge for two reasons. First, as a student of biological science, I’m always looking to learn more about human well-being and health,” says biology major Maria Angelica Subido. “My second reason is that as a member of a traditionally underserved community, I was excited to work on a real-world issue that can positively impact the lives of my friends and family members.”

Lina Henriquez, a business analytics and marketing major, agrees, stating that, “being an immigrant myself, I know it is not always easy to identify where to access quality care or who to listen to for factual health information. I look forward to collaborating with my fellow students to bring a little more equity to this critical human rights issue.”