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Dr. Lex Smith Washington and Sarah Teague are collaborating to develop a new LeadHERship Spears program for Spears Business students.

Awarding Innovation: Spears faculty, staff receiving Partnering to Impact grants

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Media Contact: Terry Tush | Director, Marketing and Communications | 405-744-2703 |

Three Spears School of Business faculty and staff members were selected to receive funds to implement programs over the next year through Partnering to Impact, a donor-funded grant program sponsored by Women for OSU. The award recipients were announced April 28 at the Women for OSU Symposium. 

A proposal by Dr. Miriam McGaugh, assistant professor of professional practice in the School of Marketing and International Business, was awarded one of six total grants for her “Stopping Sex Trafficking with Big Data” technology and her research on sex trafficking. The funds will be used to grow the online advertising database into the next phase: the development of the “Break the Chain” mobile application. 

Dr. Alexis Smith Washington, associate professor in the Department of Management, and Sarah Teague, manager of outreach programs in the Riata Center for Entrepreneurship, were also awarded a grant. It will assist in their development of a new LeadHERship Spears program that will offer professional development workshops, conference participation and networking, as well as a job shadowing program for women. 

Both proposals received the $10,000 maximum amount awarded through the Partnering to Impact program. 

“We are very proud of the work of Dr. McGaugh, Dr. Washington and Ms. Teague and their efforts to secure these grants,” said Dr. Ken Eastman, dean of Spears Business. “Dr. McGaugh’s work to harness analytics to fight the scourge of sex trafficking will help to diminish this terrible crime. Dr. Washington and Ms. Teague’s will better prepare our female students for leadership responsibilities. I commend them all for their efforts and look forward to what they accomplish.”  Miriam McGaugh

McGaugh has collaborated with Louisiana State University and the University of Alabama to research and create predictive models from online advertisements and sex trafficking. The development of the “Break the Chain” mobile app utilizes McGaugh and her team’s research into publicly available online escort apps.

“Thank you to the Women for OSU Partnering to Impact grant for this opportunity and funding this project that could help so many people within Oklahoma and beyond and allowing our ideas to come to fruition that have just been dreams for more than three years."

— Dr. Miriam McGaugh

Their research employs a public health approach and marketing concepts typically used to build a business and reverses those concepts to stop human trafficking one network at a time. The apps work by:

  1. Looking at the traditional price, placement and promotion of the “services” to determine similarity scores across differing ads and geographic locations.
  2. Examining similarity scores to determine likelihood of the person being related to sex trafficking networks.
  3. Making that information available in a searchable database for law enforcement to use during investigations or suspected trafficking cases. 

“This grant will allow us to complete the app and move it into implementation with the law enforcement community,” McGaugh said. “Strengthening the relationships with law enforcement and community organizations and building applications to enhance sex trafficking investigations falls in line with the land-grant mission of OSU.” 

The creation of the LeadHERship Spears proposal from Washington and Teague also was recognized by Partnering to Impact leadership.

Washington and Teague are designing a year-long leadership development program for women in Spears Business. Designed to complement the foundational and technical skills students learn in classes, the LeadHERship Spears program aims to provide additional professional savvy to female students. 

Women who participate in the program through monthly meetings will receive leadership competencies, hands-on business experiences and form relationships with a cohort of aspiring future female leaders. 

“Receiving this grant will allow us to pilot test a program that will help set women in Spears up for success and give them access to like-minded females,” Washington said. “Given that one of our primary goals is to advance the development of especially first generation and diverse female students, our program may expose them to opportunities they have never thought of before and encourage them to become leaders in their community no matter what path they decide to take. We see this becoming a permanent program for Spears and one we hope will impact generations to come.” 

McGaugh, Washington and Teague are pleased to be recipients of the award. 

“Thank you to the Women for OSU Partnering to Impact grant for this opportunity and funding this project that could help so many people within Oklahoma and beyond and allowing our ideas to come to fruition that have just been dreams for more than three years,” McGaugh said. 

Teague says the grant will make a difference in the lives of OSU female students. 

“Receiving this grant is a huge honor,” Teague said. “This grant is going to allow us to pilot a program that we are going to learn so much from and we have the opportunity to make this a program that will be here for years to come. We get to say it all started because Women for OSU gave us a chance to do it.”

Story By: Terry Tush | Engage@Spears Magazine

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