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Empowering Community Leaders Through STEM Education in Guatemala

July 52018

The Ignite curriculum was first conceptualized in Duke classrooms. With encouragement from the Duke Center for Global Women’s Health Technologies, Gabriela and her Desarrolla teammates enrolled in Dr. Nimmi Ramanujam’s course BME230: Intersection of Technology and Women’s Health. Students were instructed to design a renewable flashlight tailored to the specific needs and resources of a country of their choice. Naturally, the Desarrolla team chose to focus on Guatemala.

Determined to create a sustainable impact by sharing their design outside of the classroom, the Desarrolla team and FUNDEGUA partnered with the Center for Global Women’s Health Technologies to fund and organize the Guatemala STEM Empowerment Project, a pilot implementation program for the designs. The BME230 team traveled to Guatemala to teach the renewable flashlight design to students at the all-girls boarding school, Instituto Indígena Nuestra Señora del Socorro in Sololá. After a successful trip, this pilot created the framework for FUNDEGUA’s full-fledged Ignite curriculum.

Ignite Guatemala started in Instituto Nuestra Señora del Socorro in San Andrés Semetabaj. It was coordinated and implemented by Duke students: Isabela Leon, Adrienne Hawkes, Libby Dotson, Gabriela Asturias. 

Project partners include the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and four leading local research universities at Guatemala, including Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG). Students from these universities have been trained by FUNDEGUA to implement the curriculum across schools in Guatemala; disseminating the program to over 450 Guatemalan students This month, FUNDEGUA trained nine UVG students to teach the renewable flashlight design to students. These UVG students will teach their first cohort of 50 high school students in July 2018. Following this first teaching experience, the UVG students will establish an Ignite program at their own university. This program will allow previously trained students to teach new generations of UVG students to continue sharing Ignite and ensure program sustainability.

Nine Industrial Engineering students from Universidad del Valle de Guatemala will be implementing the first Ignite completely trained and implemented by Guatemalans for Guatemalans.

FUNDEGUA and the Center for Global Women’s Health Technologies have continued to collaborate by further innovating the Ignite curricula. Early Ignite initiatives focused on sustainable and accessible energy poverty solutions, but FUNDEGUA has expanded Ignite to address one of the largest development challenges in Guatemala: water contamination. This summer, two Duke students and a Guatemalan traveled to the Sololá site to pilot an Ignite program focused on building microscopes to detect water pathogens and assembling UV light water filters.

This year FUNDEGUA piloted in the first Guatemalan site the Ignite curriculum focused on the community need: water contamination. The students that participated learned how to build microscopes and water filters with locally-available resources.

Gabriela will begin medical school in the fall and intends to continue shaping FUNDEGUA and its Ignite curricula as an advisor and president of the board of directors. She is grateful for her Duke education and the opportunity it has afforded her to equip young people with STEM design skills. She is incredibly proud of Ignite’s ability to empower students to design solutions to real and urgent community needs. From her perspective, Ignite not only solves problems – it creates leaders. The program teaches these future leaders the very things that Duke taught Gabriela: to apply knowledge and use available resources to address pressing community needs.

FUNDEGUA aims to create more local university teams to expand Ignite and reach more schools across the country. In doing so, FUNDEGUA hopes to continue catalyzing and empowering young students to address development challenges in their communities – and, with time, in their country as a whole.

Visit http://fundegua.org/en/ for more information.