Student News

UK Students Shine in Mental Health Hack-A-Thon

Brittney Pendergrass, a 2022 Hack-A-Thon winner
2022 Hack-A-Thon participants

LEXINGTON, Ky (March 11, 2022) — 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 Initiatives, The 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.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.