Molly Blank, front, design instructor in UW Bioengineering, with UW and Informal Urban Communities Initiative colleagues in Peru.
That team, part of the Informal Urban Communities Initiative, and their previous work in the area provided important context for understanding the challenges, Dr. Blank says. Clean water, clean energy, sanitation issues and sustainable food sources all became potential opportunities for engineering design projects at the intersection of human health, animal health and environmental health.
As climate change begins to affect water quality, which kinds of plants grow and human health, “these floating homes provide an interesting model for how we can accommodate what will be more frequent coastal flooding in other areas of the world,” Dr. Blank says.
“Global health-themed clinical sites would serve as an excellent complement to the entrepreneurial and design component of the MAB curriculum,” Dr. Blank says. “There’s a great deal of opportunity in emerging markets and even within the U.S. At rural hospitals, for instance, we have to think about the same limited resource challenges. This idea would be readily translatable into a variety of contexts. Peru would be just one option for clinical observation, but South King County also has much to teach us.”
Such on-the-ground learning would allow students to experience global health needs on a first-hand basis, explore questions in context and practice participatory design, where researchers involve local communities in coming up with sustainable solutions that work for their unique situation. “I’m really excited about using global health as a platform to help students learn how to design for under-resourced settings that they may not be familiar with, and how powerful it can be to leverage the knowledge of local experts,” Dr. Blank says.
Another possible outcome of the group’s efforts is an Exploration Seminar for undergraduate and graduate students in a developing country, said Dr. Thickman. These 3-4 week study abroad programs take place over the summer and are led by UW faculty in a specific area of study relevant to the location.
Other ideas the group is exploring are student opportunities for capstone projects, identifying needs and facilitating sustainable solutions in partnership with communities, and prototype testing of bioengineering designs, Dr. Thickman says.
This fall, Dr. Lutz, Dr. Thickman and Mike Regnier, Washington Research Foundation Endowed Professor of Bioengineering, will travel to Kathmandu, Nepal, on a similar fact-finding mission with a group of UW faculty supported by a UW Global Innovation Fund grant. The focus of that trip will be to promote partnerships between the engineering departments at Kathmandu University and UW BioE. The team will also be identifying partners for undergraduate education in order to establish the first BioE study abroad program that Dr. Thickman plans to offer in summer of 2018. “In particular, we will be identifying opportunities with local clinics to have BioE undergraduates develop design criteria for needs identified by local health care workers,” Dr. Thickman says.
“We hope that all of these efforts will move us toward more global health influence in our curriculum and research activities, and expand our partnership with the Global Health department,” said Dr. Regnier.
The group is in its early stages and working to create infrastructure and find sources of funding to develop balanced academic programs and international research collaborations with long-term impact. “We are definitely looking for kindred spirits,” says Dr. Blank. “We are in the needs-finding stage and open to all collaborators, from individuals to the many well-established global health organizations in our region, and we are excited to get people involved.”
Interested in getting involved, providing support or learning more about the International Working Group? Contact Karen Thickman.