re:Mind Wins 4th Annual Penn Public Policy Challenge

February 28, 2013

By Kelliston McDowell, MPA '14

It was a moment symbolic not only of the Penn Public Policy Challenge Finals, but also of its eventual winner, re:Mind.

During the judges' question-and-answer portion of the team's presentation, Pennsylvania State Representative Dwight Evans posited, “Why hasn't this been implemented yet?"

It was not the first time Evans posed the question during the finals. Nor was it the first time re:Mind heard it throughout its participation in the Challenge.

Team member Kayla Cheatham explained how her team's proposal for bridging a significant gap in mental healthcare fell under the realm of multiple stakeholders.

“This year, the students did a great job of assuming the challenge and taking ideas outside of Penn and bringing it to the real stakeholders on the ground,” said Public Policy Challenge Executive Director Sarah Besnoff (Fels '11, Penn Law '14).

“Every single team met with every single person, more or less, who they’d have to work with on the implementation of their ideas. That represents a huge growth for the Challenge which started a little more theoretically and has delved into even more of the practical program that is a hallmark of Fels.”

The finals took place Sunday, February 24, 2013, at the University of Pennsylvania's Jon M. Huntsman Hall. In all, there were five finalists.

“The Public Policy Challenge has become a signature event here at Fels,” said Fels Institute Executive Director David Thornburgh. “The PPC  unleashes a huge amount of positive problem-solving energy. It challenges students to come up with an idea and figure out how it’s going to work, who’s going to pay for it, what difference it’ll make, and what the obstacles and opportunities around it really are.  The teams this year were superb--the best that I’ve seen in four years.”

Among the four runners-up to re:Mind were the Faith in Farmers Winter Initiative, which seeks to address Philadelphia's food deserts; and Penn PUPIL, which strives for the coordination of interdisciplinary health teams of Penn graduate students placed in West Philadelphia schools.

“I feel like the PPC is one of the best things about the Fels Institute because it marries the work you’re doing in the classroom with activity as a citizen in Philadelphia,” said Elizabeth Tatum (Fels '14) of Penn PUPIL.

“The best part of the experience for me was really connecting with leaders on the ground and stakeholders we’d need to implement the idea, simply because they’re the folks who have the knowledge, who are passionate about the issues, and can help us refine our idea and think about how to make it actionable.”

FitPhilly, another finalist, presented its proposal for the creation of a location-based phone application that promotes healthy lifestyles for Philadelphians. The day's first team to present, Smart Justice, shared its proposal for the establishment of a kiosk system for low-risk probationers and parolees to check-in more easily with the Philadelphia Adult Probation and Parole Department.

“It’s been a great experience to work with students from other schools and get their perspective on the criminal justice system,” said Kevin Krainz (Fels '14, Penn Law '14) of Smart Justice.

“The great thing about the challenge is when you put a lot of stakeholders in the room and put great ideas in front of them, great things might happen. We talked to a few people who feel they may be able to help us get funding for our idea. So even though we didn’t win, we hope our idea will still go forward, and maybe some of these other ideas will, too.”

The winning team, re:Mind, was comprised of a cross-sectional sampling of Penn schools. Meghan O'Brien is an MD/Master in Bioethics candidate in the Perelman School of Medicine, and Kayla Cheatham is a Master of Social Work candidate in the School of Social Policy & Practice. Molly Kreider Viscardi is a Ph.D./Master in Bioethics Candidate in the School of Nursing. Dan Bernick is a third-year undergraduate majoring in political science who is a three-time challenge participant and also serves as President of the Penn Undergraduate Assembly (UA).

“I really appreciated that this is an interdisciplinary experience,” said Cheatham. “It tied together a lot of thoughts that all of us had been having about ways to improve healthcare.”

“The people at the Fels Institute have been incredibly supportive in walking us through the steps necessary to implement public policy,” added O'Brien. “It (the challenge) gave a nice perspective of the balance to the on-the-ground healthcare experience that I have as a medical student.”

re:Mind's mental healthcare proposal targets persons discharged from inpatient mental health hospitalizations and seeks to curtail preventable re-hospitalizations, which can be costly to a variety of stakeholders. The proposal calls for “the creation and adoption of a cheap, simple, and research-supported intervention that addresses the #1 reason patients miss their initial appointment—forgetting.” re:Mind advocates for the adoption of a reminder interface that employs text messaging, phone calls, and email.

The proposal won over the panel of judges, which included Representative Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania's 153rd Legislative Districts, Evans of the 203rd Legislative District, and The Food Trust Executive Director Yael Lehmann. Story Bellows, Co-Director of the Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics, and Donna Frisby-Greenwood, Program Director of the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation, also served as judges.

“The ideas this year were stupendous. They addressed real problems in the city, and our judging panel had a really tough time figuring out who could be a winner because they want every idea to happen,” said Besnoff. “What an amazing testament to the students’ work that it was hard to determine who to give seed money to because they believe that every idea deserves that type of funding.”

As the winning team, re:Mind is the recipient of $10,000 to further their proposal. They will also compete March 16th in the First Round of the second annual National Invitational Public Policy Challenge at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and hopefully advance to the Final Round on March 17th at the National Constitution Center. They will be joined by peers from eight other universities.

“The Fels Public Policy Challenge is an unparalleled opportunity to learn how to get things done, said Bernick. “I think Fels stands alone as a leader in the field by really encouraging students to practice what they learn in the classroom.

“We’re excited to go forward and represent Penn.”

Related News: