“Experiential learning is a way of connecting the classroom to the world. This particular project allows students to synthesize everything they have learned while at George Mason into developing a program which addresses a current public health issue.”
Sara Hoffman, Faculty Member
Each day, an estimated 130 people die from an opioid-related overdose in the United States. As part of a Capstone case study competition, 11 Global and Community Health students had the opportunity to develop and present evidence-based programs to address this alarming statistic.
As finalists selected from 17 competing proposals, three groups of undergraduates presented their evidence-based approaches to deter opioid use in Virginia, providing students with practical experience developing a program to address opioid addiction and its consequences. [See sidebar for more detail.]
“Experiential learning is a way of connecting the classroom to the world. This particular project allows students to synthesize everything they have learned while at George Mason into developing a program which addresses a current public health issue,” says faculty member Sara Hoffman who mentored the “Revive – GMU and NVCC” and the “Pregnancy Opioid Addiction Intervention in Richmond, Virginia” teams.
As a culmination of their work, the groups presented their programs to a panel of judges with first-hand experience working with opioid addiction in their professional lives. The judges included: Dr. David Goodfriend, Department of Health Director for Loudoun County; Dr. Sameet Mehta, Emergency Room Doctor Loudoun INOVA Hospital, and Sarah White Opioid Taskforce Coordinator for Fairfax County.
During the Q&A portion of the presentations, the judges commented that students had put forth incredibly comprehensive programs, were well-prepared, and were personally invested in their proposals. Undergraduate Program Director, Laura Wheeler Poms, Associate Professor of Global and Community Health, also expressed pride in the students’ ability to critically think through their interventions. “You all did an amazing job integrating key public health concepts and methods from your coursework to create programs that address this very real issue,” said Poms.
“While it may be intuitive for some groups to gravitate to the types of programs already in practice, students often really think outside of the box to create programs that are innovative and fresh,” says faculty member Shannyn Snyder, who mentored the “Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome” Team.
Senior Anna Jazzmine Mata (GCH 2020), an aspiring epidemiologist, echoed this notion, “The case competition allowed me to develop a creative solution because there weren’t existing programs to address our desired population. As we developed our proposal to help pregnant women in Richmond, our confidence grew because we knew the proposed program better than anyone else.”
After three compelling and well-researched presentations, the judges selected the “REVIVE - GMU and NVCC” team for their concrete proposal that offered a clear path to implementation and connected all the dots for how the program would address the needs of their target populations. The judges felt that the “Revive – GMU and NVCC” proposal could realistically be supported by the state and that they had all the elements to hit the ground running.
Senior Justin Palpallatoc, an aspiring nurse, reported that the case competition gave him a different perspective outside of the healthcare setting. “At the hospital where I work, I see a lot of patients that suffer from addiction-- especially opioid drug addiction. Doing the research for this case competition gave me a better understanding and more empathy towards patients with addictions.”
Senior Nattacha Munakata who aspires to make community health information and resources more accessible, learned that the case competition helped participants to “step out of their comfort zone to call or email an organization to ask for some program recommendations or do a practice presentation for a friend who is unaware about the issue.”
With the knowledge and skills gained in through the capstone experience, this group of 11 dedicated and ambitious seniors will enter the workforce prepared to make a difference in their communities.