By A Fish
LEXINGTON, KY – In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been left wondering about the future of global health and other increasingly globalized crises facing humanity. The University of Kentucky’s Global Health Case Competition prompts students to find answers to those questions.
Mallory Sparks, a student in UK’s College of Arts and Sciences, has taken up that challenge. She’s a two-time competitor, and her team won the 2023 contest. The competition asked students to create a solution to combat poor mental health in youth in Monrovia, Liberia. Team 13 took first place with “LIFT UP Mental Health: Liberia Initiative to Foster Ties & Unite People for better Mental Health." The winning prize was $1,500, and the team represented UK at the 2023 Emory Morningside Global Health Case Competition.
“Our team identified poverty as a root cause of poor mental health and formed an economic empowerment intervention plan,” Sparks said. “This plan provided workshops and training in financial management targeted toward school-age children with a monetary incentive to participate. To encourage the kids to save money, the plan included optional child development accounts. We also incorporated group therapy with trained mental health advocates. To tailor the plan to kids, we included art, storytelling, dance and music in the group therapy.”
Sparks is a current sophomore double-majoring in environmental sustainability studies and Spanish at UK. A Lexington native, Sparks attended the Governors Scholars Program in high school and received a full tuition scholarship to UK. Other members of the team were Julia Kollitz, Keerthana Kumar, Reagan Persful and Adreanna Rainey; Rainey is a biology major in Arts and Sciences.
After winning UK’s competition, Team 13 went to Atlanta to compete in Emory University’s international competition. This competition challenged students to find ways to reduce high maternal mortality rates in Haiti’s Central Plateau.
“It was an amazing experience to meet people from all over the world and see everyone coming together to create solutions to global health concerns,” she said. “Our solution focused on expanding prenatal care through mobile health teams, resource pack distribution and comprehensive prenatal education.”
Inspired to put these ideas into action, Sparks joined the research project of Juan Canedo, assistant professor of internal medicine at UK. The project involves identifying health disparities through the Markey Cancer Center and focuses on assessing barriers to receiving cancer screening and preventive care in the Hispanic-Latino community in three Kentucky counties. Thanks to the project, Sparks placed second in the social sciences section of UK’s 2023 Oswald Research and Creativity Competition.
After graduating from UK in 2026, Sparks plans to pursue a Master of Public Health degree and conduct similar research. She is most interested in mitigating the effects of current and future environmental crises.
“I believe that the health of our environment is closely tied to human health,” she said. “I hope to conduct research on cancer-causing endocrine disrupters, as well as potential environmental remediation strategies to combat this problem.”
Under Craig Borie, program manager of the Global Health Initiatives and Peace Corps Prep at UK, Sparks has connected with people in this field. His mentorship has been especially important to her throughout these competitions and her student career.
“Craig has helped me find related opportunities on campus such as the Shoulder to Shoulder Global program, one of UK’s global health initiatives,” she said. “I am excited to see what the future holds.”