UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Google Challenge Students to Develop Business Strategies for Mental Healthcare


Michael Martin and Team Green, winners of the John E. Martin Mental Healthcare Challenge. Team Green includes (left to right) Jackie Browning, MBA candidate at Duke Fuqua; Kayla Thompson, MD/MBA candidate at Duke University; Michael Gao, Biostatistics Ph.D. student at Duke University; and Iris Yang, Clinical Psychology Ph.D. student at Southern Methodist. (Photo: Business Wire)

BERKELEY, Calif.--()--Graduate students are teaming up with business leaders to develop solutions around mental healthcare as a business imperative. Student teams from around the world competed Dec. 3 for a total of $25,000 in the final round of the John E. Martin Mental Healthcare Challenge, hosted by the UC Berkeley Haas Healthcare Association and Google. Teams presented business strategies to address how large companies could design and implement culturally responsive programs and benefits that support the mental health and wellness of employees.

This year’s winners include: Kayla Thompson, MD/MBA candidate at Duke University; Iris Yang, Clinical Psychology Ph.D. student at Southern Methodist University; Jackie Browning, MBA candidate at Duke University; and Michael Gao, Biostatistics Ph.D. student at Duke University.

Their solution focused on investing in people, using a three-pronged process of diagnosing problems diverse suppliers face, creating a supplier association to provide resources, collaboration and mentorship opportunities, and creating a credentialing program where suppliers are incentivized to prioritize mental wellness.

“We just want to, first of all, say thank you to all of the organizers from both Haas and Google. We have learned so much from the experience and from the other presenters throughout the competition process,” said Thompson. “It is humbling that the judges highlighted our solution. The holistic challenge has been so rewarding, and we are truly honored to be a part of these important conversations.”

This year’s outreach programming, centering on HBCUs, saw administrators and students from Alabama A&M University, Claflin University, Florida A&M University, Morgan State University, North Carolina A&T State University, Prairie View A&M University, Tennessee State University, and Winston-Salem State University attending a variety of events, symposiums, and workshops focused on the equitable and inclusive building of wide reaching, effective and sustainable mental healthcare products and services.

“The JEM MHC — along with other industry-university partnerships — will help chip away at the longstanding legacy of institutional discrimination and racial inequality that has created the underrepresentation of African Americans in various occupations and wealth inequality,” said Farrah Cambrice, Associate Professor of Sociology and Associate Dean for Prairie View A&M University’s Office of Graduate Studies. “I am convinced that this competition creates a much-needed awareness of the importance of cultural competencies in mental health access and care. Mental health and wellness are not just personal troubles; rather, they are public issues and concerns, social problems that require interdisciplinary approaches.”

After tragically losing his father in an automobile accident in 2013, Michael Martin, a UC Berkeley alumnus (FTMBA ‘09) and Googler, founded the John E. Martin Fellowship to celebrate his father’s passion for and commitment to counseling and supporting veterans returning home from war. In 2020, the John E. Martin Mental Healthcare Challenge, consisting of a business case competition, speaker series and diversity, equity, and outreach programming, was founded to scale efforts to improve the quality of and access to mental healthcare.

“As I thought about what my father's life meant, the idea of redemption kept coming to mind,” said Martin. “The suffering brought on by the tragedy ceased when I found meaning in it, and embarked on a journey to carry on my father’s work that focuses on improving the quality of and access to mental healthcare.”

According to Pew Research, a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately two-thirds of U.S. adults are suffering from regular bouts of sleeplessness and anxiety. Many are bowing out of the workforce in what some are calling “The Great Resignation.”

“In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, women and people of color have had a disproportionate impact on their mental health and well-being, although there have been increased reports of psychological distress overall. The future of our workforce depends on how effectively employers can aid workers through resources and support,” said Dr. Lela McKnight-Eily, Chief Mental Health Advisor for Google Data Centers.

The 2021 mental healthcare challenge tasked graduate students with developing innovative and culturally responsive solutions and strategies to combat mental health issues in the workplace.

“Mental health and diversity, equity and inclusion are top priorities at Haas, and we are concerned by the pandemic's impact on both,” said UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business Dean Ann Harrison. “I am thrilled that students are working on innovative solutions to this global crisis."

Google’s partnership in this program and lessons learned from the inaugural challenge inspired real change in how it does business. Following the inaugural competition, which charged students to find ways to better use data to address mental illness in the construction industry, Google elected to incorporate mental health elements into a request for proposal (RFP) standard for data center construction and infrastructure projects and created a chief mental health advisor role that Dr. McKnight-Eily fills today.

“As a safety professional, the time has come for us to understand what it means to protect the entire worker, not just physically but also emotionally. Our mental health affects our physical health and how we safely perform our jobs,” said Anita Tarab, Google Data Centers’ Sr. Director of Global Performance Services. “Companies need to take mental health out of the closet and put it in the forefront of how we engage with our workers and our colleagues.”


HHA is a student-run organization that brings together UC Berkeley students of all backgrounds with a shared mission to build a more connected and impactful healthcare ecosystem.



Katy Gustafson
(405) 715-3232


Katy Gustafson
(405) 715-3232