May 27, 2019  

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Southern Miss Team Captures Social Business Challenge with Health Initiative

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Gov. Phil Bryant, center, presented the winner's trophy to Team Blueprint Health from The University of Southern Mississippi after the group took first place in the Social Business Challenge held earlier this month in Jackson. Team members include, from left to right, Dr. Jennifer Lemacks, team adviser and assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Systems, Timothy King, Molly Chaffin, Cecilia Snyder, and Brian Street. (Submitted photo)

Challenged to develop a plan for combating obesity and health issues in Mississippi, a team of students from The University of Southern Mississippi devised a strategy that propelled them to victory in the second annual Social Business Challenge competition held earlier this month in Jackson.

The Southern Miss team that included -- Timothy King, Molly Chaffin, Cecilia Snyder, Brian Street, and faculty adviser Dr. Jennifer Lemacks – prevailed with its social solution proposal “Blueprint Health” over teams representing 10 other public universities in Mississippi.

Team captain Snyder is a graduate student from Ocean Springs, Miss.; Street is a graduate student from Lucedale, Miss.; Chaffin is a graduate student from Knoxville, Tenn., and King is a senior from Seminary, Miss.

The team’s business model addresses obesity throughout the state by first targeting employees of selected businesses for behavior change or disease management. Through these employees, Blueprint Health seeks to reach their families and communities, promoting nutrition and physical activity to improve health and decrease the rate of obesity and chronic diseases.

“This project was a perfect fit for what the challenge called for,” said Lemacks, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Systems at Southern Miss. “A lot of hard work went into the project as well as stakeholder advisement. The team had a devoted support network. And the recipe for their proposal’s success was simple: combine evidenced based strategies with a drive and passion for a healthier Mississippi, along with a heap of blood, sweat and tears.”

Sponsored by Blue Cross & Blue Shield, students presented business plans showcasing how each team would help combat obesity and health issues prevalent in Mississippi. Eleven teams of three to six students, represented each public university. They all took the floor, and expressed their business plans to a panel of judges.

The team qualified for the state contest by winning a University competition last December. By capturing first place in the state event, each student received a $500 award to be used for educational expenses. The team collected a $5,000 award for business start-up funds (the business must be registered with the Secretary of State’s Office).

“I could not have asked for a better, more diverse, supportive, and unyieldingly patient team to traverse this experience with,” said King. “It has been a time of explosive growth for me, both personally and professionally, and a truly special memory.”

Blueprint Health’s framework could also be implemented in other settings, including churches and schools, creating opportunity for long-term sustainability. Implementation will rely on a team of “champions” from each worksite serving as lay health advisors, and leading on-site employee health program implementation.

Program success would be achieved by five unique strategies: (1) expert advisory board (2) health champion model (3) workplace environment (4) disease management and (5) community outreach. Comprised of a four-member team including a registered dietitian and exercise physiologist, Blueprint Health will develop guidelines/materials, conduct assessments/evaluations, and continuously guide/train champions, provide materials, and help champions tailor implementation to specific employee health needs.

Snyder pointed out that her previous experience writing business plans aided significantly in the proposal’s composition.

“I worked primarily on writing the market analysis and financial components of the business plan,” said Snyder. “As a dietitian, this challenge seemed like a great opportunity to highlight our work in the field of dietetics and apply many of the concepts I’ve studied throughout my education to address the ever-pressing issue of obesity rates in Mississippi.”

In 2012, Blueprint Mississippi, an independent cooperative of organizations and leaders aimed at conducting an objective review of Mississippi's economic opportunities and recommended actions for putting Mississippi in the place of greatest opportunity, identified nine goals to enable a more prosperous, vibrant, and resilient Mississippi, built upon a foundation of economic opportunity for all its citizens.

The nine Blueprint Mississippi goals include:

  1. Increase the Educational Achievement of Mississippians
  2. Cultivate a More Robust Workforce in Mississippi
  3. Strengthen and Expand Mississippi's Economy
  4. Promote Health Care as an Economic Driver
  5. Support Mississippi's Creative Economy
  6. Continually Develop the Infrastructure for a Competitive Economy
  7. Increase Availability of Financial Capital
  8. Cultivate Diversity, Community Cooperation and Racial Reconciliation
  9. Improve Communication and Coordination Among Public, Private and Non-profit Leaders

More information is available online at


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