Sound Advice: T-Bird Grads Advise the Pros in Statewide Think Tank

Published: January 27, 2012 | Read Time: 3 minutes

In the first competition of its kind, graduate students from Southern Utah University earned second place and an opportunity to advise one of Utah’s predominant healthcare organizations — Intermountain Healthcare.

Teams of students from each of Utah’s seven universities were invited to participate in IHC’s University Think Tank Competition, with the objective of crafting “creative new perspectives on healthcare delivery.” Ideas were presented to the Think Tank Selection Group’s Executive Team, composed of leaders from IHC’s hospitals, physician groups and SelectHealth.

SUU’s Jennifer Feld and Jamie Nelson teamed-up on a proposal which sought to improve patient access to IHC’s physicians and services by restructuring the organization’s website. They also suggested participation in social media forums, sponsoring disease-specific chat rooms, online support groups and e-access to physicians.

Feld and Nelson were both awarded a cash prize for taking second place, in addition to a $1,000 reward for participating in the competition.

Mentors from Intermountain Healthcare were assigned to each team to help them develop and organize their ideas. Feld and Nelson worked with longtime IHC employee Chris Coons, whose years of experience and knowledge helped them improve their project significantly.

“Since both of us were unfamiliar with the healthcare industry, he was great to bounce our ideas off of and help guide us,” said Feld, a student in SUU’s Master of Fine Arts, Arts Administration program.

Jamie Nelson, a student in SUU’s Master of Public Administration program, is also not in pursuit of a career in the healthcare field; however, she views the experience as a valuable one. “I learned a great deal about the Intermountain Healthcare organization which has an enormous presence in Utah,” Nelson said. “As someone who intends to work in the nonprofit sector, experiencing the inner workings of such a large organization was very interesting and beneficial to me.”

That neither student is enrolled in a healthcare-specific graduate program speaks to the critical and creative thinking fostered within their respective administrative programs, providing a sound foundation of the executive-level perspective of top administrators across the board.

According to Coons, SUU’s proposal was a success not only because it was well executed but because the ideas were timely and well-suited to the future of the industry.

“Various criteria were used to evaluate each presentation, including technical feasibility, difficulty of implementation, levels of risk and novelty of the idea,” said Coons. “The SUU team did a very creative presentation with good content to support their ideas.”

The top three winning ideas from the University Think Tank Competition are being considered and used by IHC operatives in their respective areas of focus. Additionally, SUU’s team will present their ideas to the organization’s e-business strategic team who are working to improve IHC’s online presence and address new challenges associated with healthcare reform.

In addition to improvements for IHC, Coons believes that the competition serves as a valuable learning experience for students.

Feld concurs: “I learned a lot from this experience and I feel very lucky to have participated in the event,” she said.

The competition’s first place award was given to students from the University of Utah. Brigham Young University students placed third.

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