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UNF presents 2024 MedNexus Innovation Challenge

The University of North Florida, in partnership with the City of Palm Coast and Flagler Schools, has opened applications for the 2024 MedNexus Innovation Challenge. The Challenge is a team-based competition that will showcase regional high school students selected to pitch their solutions to address social media addiction in teenagers. The Innovation Challenge is open to all Flagler, St. Johns, Volusia and surrounding county high school students. 

Students will have the chance to win cash prizes and receive coaching by subject matter experts. Teams should be made up of four students. First and second-place winners will be selected by a panel of judges. The first-place team will be awarded a $1,000 scholarship for each team member, and the second-place team will receive $750 for each team member. 

“We are so excited to see what sort of solutions, particularly health intervention or programs, these talented students develop to help with social media addiction,” said Dr. Julie Merten, Associate Dean of UNF MedNexus. “Our hope is to provide additional support to actually implement the winning intervention in partnership with Flagler Schools and the City of Palm Coast. How wonderful it will be to watch the winning idea come to life in the students’ community.” 

Social media use is prevalent among high school students, with 84% of teens using social media and 62% using it every day. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that teens who use social media more than three hours per day are at an increased risk for mental health issues. The article notes that social media creates a stimulating effect like addiction, creating a cycle of repetitive checking. This checking and rechecking can rewire a young brain to seek instant gratification, leading to and exacerbating other mental health disorders. 

The MedNexus Innovation Challenge is ideal for any aspiring student considering a health, biomedical, technology or entrepreneurship career. Participating students will develop leadership, teamwork and communication skills while receiving personalized coaching from their team’s assigned UNF faculty member. 

“We’re excited that this incredible opportunity for local high school students is returning for the third year in a row,” said Palm Coast Mayor David Alfin. “The importance of the MedNexus concept centers on providing education and career opportunities right here in our city. This Innovation Challenge plays right into the goal of getting young adults interested and engaged in the medical and technology fields right here in our community.” 

Applications are open until Friday, Feb. 9, and decisions of the participating teams will be released on Monday, Feb. 19. The pitch competition will be held on Thursday, April 11 from 5 to 7 p.m. at Palm Coast Community Center. Visit the UNF MedNexus website for more information on the MedNexus Innovation Challenge and the application.