Leadership Skills in Action: Our Annual Case Competition


It’s one thing to research complex public health issues.

It’s quite another to stand in front of policymakers and, drawing on your research, argue convincingly for policies designed to address those issues.

Helping scholars make that leap—or, more accurately, that step-by-step journey—is a core part of Health Policy Research Scholars. Over the course of our program, doctoral students prepare to work across disciplines and sectors to build a Culture of Health by developing key leadership skills, including collaboration, public speaking, writing for policy audiences, and translating research into policy solutions.

After honing those skills for two years, scholars are ready to put them into action in a simulated setting during our annual case competition in Washington, D.C. In the competition, scholars team up to tackle a timely issue at the intersection of policy, equity, and public health.

In 2018, eight competing teams were tasked with arguing for or against legislation proposed to create a national program to respond to the public health effects of climate change. The teams were also assigned to represent specific, diverse communities from Puerto Rico to the Mississippi Delta to Southern California. To help them prepare mock testimony, the teams met with policymakers, advocacy groups, and other stakeholders to learn about these communities and the challenges they face in connection with climate change.

The teams prepared a written brief and an oral presentation, which they delivered before a panel of judges, including researchers, Congressional staffers, and executives from national coalitions and advocacy organizations. In this simulation, the judges played the part of Congressional representatives, asking questions and pressing each team for details.

“We need to think about solutions just as much as we think about problems.”

The winning team—Roy “RJ” Taggueg Jr., Gayle Shipp, Sondra Lavigne, and Paul Shafer—represented migrant workers in California. Their written and oral testimony highlighted issues such as heat exhaustion, asthma, and housing and work instability. By linking the health and well-being of migrant workers to the agricultural economy, and estimating specific financial impacts, the team convinced the judges that protections were needed and that the proposed legislation should be passed.

The case competition gives scholars an opportunity to collaborate across disciplines and to practice advocating for and alongside communities. It also sparks insight into how they can be more effective in shaping health policy.

“Too often, researchers think only about asking questions, describing problems, or understanding context,” one scholar reflected. “The competition taught me that we need to think about solutions just as much as we think about problems.”

This year, the case competition will focus on gun violence prevention, another complex public health issue that requires creative, interdisciplinary solutions.

As the next cohort of scholars begins preparing for their competition this summer, we encourage you to consider how you might transform the work you are doing to further contribute to building a Culture of Health. In what ways can you apply your research to inform policy solutions?


Photo caption: Our winning team for 2018: (left to right) Roy Taggueg Jr., Gayle Shipp, Sondra Lavigne, and Paul Shafer. 


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