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UK Students Shine in Mental Health Hack-A-Thon

By Melody Ryan and Craig Borie

LEXINGTON, Ky (March 11, 2022) — COVID-19 brought to the forefront the challenges of mental health around the world. During the Feb. 26, 2022 Global Mental Health Hack-A-Thon, University of Kentucky students and the Kentucky community proposed solutions to this global health challenge.

The event was sponsored by the UK Office of Global Health InitiativesThe Von Allmen Center for Entrepreneurship and the Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise.

Hack-A-Thon teams and individuals used their talents to devise ideas to improve mental health in a rapidly paced half-day event. Participants received training in entrepreneurial tactics to develop innovative ideas, with the day culminating in each team of one to four participants giving a five-minute presentation to a panel of judges. Team presentations focused on one of three areas:

  • Accessible and equitable mental health care.
  • Reducing stigma of mental health.
  • Refugee mental health.

"Hack-A-Thon participants were able to take the first spark of an idea and in a remarkably short period of time, develop a viable business plan,” said Melody Ryan, assistant provost for global health initiatives. “I believe that people are more attuned to mental health issues and would like to be able to push back with their own great ideas. Mental health has such a broad scope and disorders include depression, anxiety, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia among many others. It was impressive to see the solutions participants put together and how quickly many of them formed highly functioning teams. I think it also allows people who don't ordinarily see themselves as a global health stakeholder to realize they have a place at the table in combating one of the biggest challenges in the world.”

The top five teams, all featuring UK students, each won cash prizes of $1,000 and a spot in the Fall 2022 Von Allmen Center Entrepreneurs’ Bootcamp 1.0 to further develop their ideas. The following teams and individuals were named winners at the event:

  • Jack Bell and Michael Morgan from the College of Arts and Sciences.
  • Caitlynn Bryant from the College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment, and Keerthana Kumar from the College of Medicine and College of Public Health .
  • David Ffiske and Tai Zhou from the College of Arts and Sciences.
  • Macey Johnson, Andrew Kennedy, Sarah Kosse and Carly Nunamaker from the College of Medicine.
  • Brittney Pendergrass from the College of Social Work.

“Participating in the Mental Health Hack-A-Thon allowed me to explore the idea of entrepreneurial and intrapreneurship within the social workspace,” said Pendergrass. “The mentorship, as well as the networking opportunities, were a prize within themselves, and I would recommend that anyone take the time to participate. You’ll be surprised what you can do.”

Pendergrass said she plans on donating her winnings from the event to an organization that teaches children to identify and manage their feelings.

“I feel that mental health is an issue that is plaguing our country and to counter this issue we need to start to destigmatize it at an early age,” she said.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.