Photo Credit Jan Garrison
Students take up the Lilly Challenge
December 19, 2018

With type 2 diabetes rising rapidly among teenagers, officials at Eli Lilly and Company in Indianapolis asked students of The Ron Rubin School for the Entrepreneur to study and suggest ways to reach the population and slow the progress of this chronic disease. On Dec. 10, the students came back with their recommendations.

Drake D’Ambra ’09 said he had been searching for the right vehicle to bring Culver Academies and Lilly together. Finding a way to slow down the spread of early onset diabetes in teens turned out to be that avenue.

Lilly has a long history in the treatment and management of diabetes. Dr. Tim Garnett, chief medical officer and senior vice president, told the students that Lilly was the first company to produce insulin on a large scale in 1922. Lilly has made other strides in the treatment of diabetes over the years and is awaiting approval on another.

D’Ambra and Hayes Barnes ’14 worked to bring The Rubin School students to company’s headquarters for the Lilly Challenge, a competition designed to see how four different teams would tackle the growing problem. The students initially visited the company in November to get their background information and tour the Indianapolis facility.

Outside the Lilly labs with Barnes and D’Ambra

The winning team of Jacob Page ’20 (Granger, Ind.), Gianna Maroney ’21 (New Buffalo, Mich.) and Mary Cate Wright ’20 (South Bend, Ind.) offered a multi-pronged educational approach using YouTube and Instagram as vehicles to reach the targeted audience of 13-to-17 year olds.

Using celebrities that teens relate to, the short ad clips would spread awareness on the different aspects, such as the dangers and consequences of type 2 diabetes. The online formats are ideal since 76 percent of the targeted market is on Instagram and 85 percent are watching YouTube on a regular basis.

A realistic cost for the campaign would be $17 million for 10 YouTube and five Instagram advertisements over a six-month period.

Including proper nutrition in school curriculums was another avenue, the group suggested. One study they found said students were receiving only 3.5 hours of nutritional information per school year. But getting a more comprehensive nutritional program into schools may be more difficult since the curriculum is controlled at the state level, they said.

The judges selected the team of Hannah Fody ’19 (Granby, Colo.), Wentiao Ouyang ’19 (South Bend, Ind.) and Jack Schmedlien ’19 (Culver) as the runner-up. Looking a three-pronged approach, the group also targeted the internet as a primary resource for education.

The venture would develop an animated series featuring the super hero Buck. Designed for a younger audience, the series would feature Buck battling such villains as the Diabeasties, Dr. Flu, and Arthur Itis. The series could run on channels like PBSKids, Netflix, or Hulu.

The show would lend itself to the development of a game, memes, stories, and commercials. The memes could be targeted at teens, who would taking in the message as they make fun of the characters, they explained. In this case, there is no such thing as bad publicity, they suggested.

The estimated the cost of each episode to be approximately $1 million and a meme at $100 each. Liilly would be involved as a major sponsor of the show.

The popularity of the show could lead to food producers seeking a “Buck” certification, which could be placed on the labels. The character could also be used to introduce healthy recipes from different regions of the U.S. and around the world.

The first place team received Lilly backpacks and $1,000 from The Rubin School. Fifty percent of the cash award is to be designated to a local charity of the team members’ choice. The second place team received $500, with $250 to be designated for charity.

The team of Jiashu (Terry) Cheng ’22 (Beijing), Matthew Peterson ’20 (Scottsdale, Ariz.), and Ali Kwiecien ’19 (Plainfield, Ill.) proposed an athletic competition targeting teenagers called the Lilly Cup. They believed that controlling diet was out of most teenagers’ hands because of factors like income, parental control, and lack of access dictated much of what they ate. But exercise and other physical activities, which helps control some of the risk factors involved with diabetes, were in their control.

They suggested developing a program that emphasized participation and enjoyment rather than competition. It would be similar to intramural programs with Lilly supplying the necessary equipment to the participating schools and organizations. Sometime during the events, specialists could speak on issues associated with diabetes like exercise, nutrition, and prevention.

The team of Evelyn Frutkin ’21 (Cincinnati, Ohio), Zhengyi (Jenny) Song ’21 (Shanghai, China) and Isabelle Ahlenius ’20 (Knox, Ind.) offered the concept of cooking classes that would include meal kits that people could take home after each session. The classes could be targeted to teens, college students, and parents. They estimated the cost to be $10 per meals. The free meal package that would feed a family of four would serve as the incentive to come.

They also suggested Nudge Posters that would be placed at the point of purchase in grocery stores and school cafeterias. A study showed that using similar signs on grocery carts resulted in a 102 percent increase in the sale of good food choices.

Lilly officials said they were not looking for a “silver bullet” concept but they did want to hear a collection of ideas from students designed for students. The judges, Lilly department directors, used criteria ranging from how well a plan could be accomplished on a large scale; how realistic the proposed budgets were; and the ease of operation for rolling out the different plans in making their decisions.

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