Students wrestle ‘wicked problems’ with creative thinking

Wicked Case Competition sizedIn past years, while you were reading about a syphilis epidemic in Jefferson County and an environmental contamination in Birmingham, students participating in the School of Public Health’s Wicked Problem Case Competition were trying to solve them.

The competition, held each year during National Public Health Week, challenges students to resolve highly complex problems with creative and interdisciplinary thinking. Although this year’s competition focuses on a fictional narrative, the problem is real: sexual violence among college students.

“In addition to contributing to education, this competition provides an opportunity for students to offer solutions to real problems,” said Heather Lee, instructional design specialist in the School of Health Professions.

Teams of students were assigned the topic Friday and will present their proposals during a seven-minute presentation Thursday in the Ryals Building and The Edge of Chaos.

Lee said every school is represented in this year’s competition. More than 80 students — 15 teams — will present their proposals. Those must include ways to mobilize and empower students, effectively engage males in the solution, create educational materials, media campaigns and other communication efforts to which college students can relate and, finally, foster ongoing prevention and awareness programs for students, faculty and staff. The proposals also must adhere to a $50,000 budget and a timeframe of three years.

Competition mentors — faculty with an interest in the topic — meet with teams to discuss everything from where to get information to how to frame a response.

“It requires them to develop a strategic and feasible plan that could be implemented on campus. They will need to be systematic and creative. Additionally, they will have to create a budget to carry out their recommendations. This is great practice for the real world and is not something many students are exposed to in traditional courses.”

“It requires them to develop a strategic and feasible plan that could be implemented on campus,” Lee said. “They will need to be systematic and creative. Additionally, they will have to create a budget to carry out their recommendations. This is great practice for the real world and is not something many students are exposed to in traditional courses.”

For their efforts, winning teams will receive prize money — $1,500 for first place, $1,000 for second place and $500 for third place — funded through the School of Public Health.

Money may not be the only reward. Several competition mentors and judges are members of the UAB Coordinated Community Response Team and feasible, affordable solutions could be considered and implemented through the CCRT.

More information on the competition can be found online.

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