In April, when Macalester’s first team of public health students competed in St. Louis University’s Undergraduate Public Health Scholars Bowl, they didn’t know what to expect. But the result was a happy one: They came home with a $1,000 prize for their first-place finish in the case study competition.

All teams shared the same case study topic—high homicide rates faced by Chicago communities that are also suffering from high stroke mortality rates—and were provided with background information and data.

Charged with analyzing and interpreting the data, each team then proposed a public health intervention to address the issue, says Alexia Malaga ’14 (Hurley, Wis), making a 20-minute presentation to a panel of judges.

“We found that jailing a youth in Chicago’s juvenile detention center was four times as expensive as Harvard tuition,” says Miriam Magaña ’14 (Sonoma, Calif.). “Therefore, we didn’t think that investing in more police, and waiting until people got involved in gangs, was sustainable.”

The Macalester group proposed a pilot program called “Rise Up” for the Englewood community, considered one of the most dangerous neighborhoods. Working together with a well-established neighborhood organization, they proposed starting a community beautification program that would increase green spaces, parks, and other recreational opportunities and would be staffed by area youth working as paid employees. “Given the community’s poverty rate of 42 percent and unemployment rate of 20 percent, we believe that opportunities such as these can empower youth,” Magaña says. “We justified the spending because millions of dollars have been invested in an increased police presence, which is unsustainable and is only fixing the symptoms, not the cause.”

Magaña and Clementine Sanchez ’14 heard about the competition through a Community and Global Health program email, and recruited Malaga and Riccardo Maddalozzo ’15 (Arsiè, Italy) to help. With the support of CGH professors Victor Addona and Christy Hanson, they then applied for a Macalester grant to support their travel to the competition.

Sanchez, who has lived in Portugal, Spain, and France, appreciates the value of different perspectives. “Macalester really emphasizes the multidisciplinary approach in its community and global health concentration, but to see it play out in a specific project was fascinating.” Sanchez and Maddalozzo are international studies majors; Malaga majored in biology and Magaña in anthropology. All four are also doing a concentration in Community and Global Health.

Maddalozzo enjoyed meeting students from the nine other competing colleges who share his passions. Next year he is likely to be joined by a new group of students. “When we spoke in public health classes about our experience, we got quite a lot of interest,” he says. “Many people have already contacted me about joining a team next year.”

May 13 2014

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