UK College of Social Work Student Shines in Mental Health Hack-A-Thon

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This article was originally published in UKNow.

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.

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For 85 years, the University of Kentucky College of Social Work (CoSW) has been a leader in social work education. As a college, we promote community and individual well-being through translational research and scholarship, exemplary teaching, and vital community engagement. We are committed to the people and social institutions throughout Kentucky, the nation, and the world. Like the University, CoSW is an organization that cultivates a diverse academic community characterized by interpersonal fairness and social justice. We are fiercely committed to developing outstanding social work professionals — leaders who will serve individuals, families, and communities through innovative and effective practices that are guided by cultural competency, systematic ethical analysis, and a keen and pragmatic understanding of the human condition.