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Team of Undergrads to Represent Duke at Oxford Global Challenge

Student project focuses on solutions to high prescription drug costs

The winning team in the Duke Global Challenge: Qiang Zhang, David Wohlever Sanchez and Jackie Xu. Photo by Katie Jansen
The winning team in the Duke Global Challenge: Qiang Zhang, David Wohlever Sanchez and Jackie Xu. Photo by Katie Jansen

Six teams recently presented their research to a panel of judges during the Duke Global Challenge finals, and one team was crowned the winner and given the opportunity to compete in the international Global Challenge finals at Oxford, England.

A team of three sophomores – public policy majors Jackie Xu and David Wohlever Sanchez, as well as political science major Qiang Zhang – took home the prize for their research in costly prescription drugs.

Out of 21 teams that participated in the challenge, six made it to the Duke finals. The winning team was the only team of undergraduates to be selected for the finals. Xu said the team was pleasantly surprised when they were announced as the winners because they were competing against great presentations that stemmed from graduate students’ thesis work.

Oxford’s Global Challenge was brought to Duke through a joint effort by the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative and the Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator at Duke. The challenge asked students to step back from generating solutions, go deeper in learning about the social and environmental issues they care about, and learn how to present their findings dynamically to a broad audience. 

Xu said she found the Global Challenge’s focus on the problem refreshing because other competitions she’d participated in focused primarily on solutions. On the other hand, the Global Challenge allowed her and her teammates to conduct long-term, in-depth research for more than a month.

Wohlever Sanchez’s mom is a family doctor, and one of her medical journals caught his attention with a story about the high cost of prescription drugs. The article was the genesis of the team’s project.

The trio will travel to Oxford at the end of April to compete in the international finals. At stake are cash prizes which allow the winning teams to “apprentice with the problem.”

Conducting in-depth research inspired the students to pursue other opportunities on campus. Wohlever Sanchez has written articles about high-cost drugs for the Chronicle, Duke Political Review and the Kenan Institute for Ethics. Wu joined Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM), a student group that advocates for global access to medicines, as well as the nonprofit Global Healthcare Innovation Alliance Accelerator. Zhang joined the Healthcare Policy Forum and plans to take more classes on healthcare policy. The team is also working on publishing its findings in the Duke Science Review.

Other strong teams in the finals included:

A team made up of two Nicholas School graduate students, Elihu Dietz and Hannah Girardeau, and Fuqua student Tim Scales. The team participated in the energy access track with its project on lighting access in rural Africa.

Scales said participating in the Global Challenge helped teach him to take a step back and look at the root causes of the problem. Although he said this was initially a challenge for him because his program at Fuqua is very solution-oriented, he enjoyed having “a dedicated space to think deeply and carefully about the problem.”

Three Sanford graduate students pursuing the Master of International Development Policy Program. Akiko Tamura, Laurel Pegorsch and Daniela Schermerhorn teamed up to focus on conservation and waste pickers in Brazil.

Schermerhorn is from Brazil and was able to research the problem by conducting interviews over spring break. The team found that more than 2,000 people in the region make a living by picking up trash. However, this livelihood is being threatened as the government has shut down the dump site where they work and replaced it with a new, greener facility.

The team said they are used to investigating problems and thinking about the cause of the problem because of the global nature of their classes at Sanford. They believe their project has the capacity to change the situation in Brazil, and Schermerhorn hopes to present it to the Brazil government in the future.

Fuqua student Alejandra Rossi, who used research from her independent study on the refugee crisis as a springboard for a project on how the private sector can get involved and help refugees.

Rossi said she came to Fuqua to learn more frameworks to be a social entrepreneur and to pursue a concentration in social entrepreneurship.

She said she benefited from the Duke Global Challenge because it connected her with a network of people that she can work with to take her research to the next level as she began to think about solutions. Her work on the project has also inspired her to get involved with refugees locally, both through volunteering with Church World Service and through partnering with a handful of her Fuqua classmates to sponsor a family from Syria.