WISER students present BME 290 lights + manuals to community health care clinic|UNDERGRADUATE FELLOW

Updated: Sep 2, 2019

Jenna Peters

On Thursday, 11 WISER girls, a recent WISER graduate, and I walked down WISER’s driveway to the Tagache Health Center, the clinic nearest to WISER. Along with us, we brought two headlamps and two wrist lamps that were created by my classmates and me in Duke’s Biomedical Engineering (BME) 290 class. Groups of two to three WiSER students presented each product, showing leaders of the clinic how to charge and how to use each light. The students then presented the clinic with pictorial instruction manuals created by the BME 290 groups.

Though the lights were constructed at Duke, the WISER Engineering Club and the club’s patron, Teacher Kennedy, were instrumental in the design process as students interviewed the clinic’s staff and conveyed the clinic’s needs to my class. As we are learning in the entrepreneurship applied to engineering sessions I teach to the Engineering Club, understanding the client’s needs is just as critical as being able to solder or design a circuit. Given their crucial role in connecting Duke with the community partner, it was fitting that the WISER girls were the ones to present the lights. It was also important for the WISER girls to be the presenters because we believe that the girls can take the lights presented to the clinic as a launching point for a future design challenge. We hope that they will redesign and improve them in accordance with the feedback that the clinic will provide. With the proximity of WISER to the Tagache Health Center, the girls will have many more opportunities to receive feedback on their designs and products than the Duke students did, and we hope that this will result in products well-suited to the needs of the community partner.

When the clinic staff had an opportunity to respond, I was impressed by the challenging questions posed to the girls. Students were asked to describe the principle behind how the cranking motion can charge the battery, to calculate the voltage output of the battery pack, and to state the units used to describe resistance. One particularly challenging question was about how to use the lights during surgery when the field needs to be sterile. As the girls struggled with this question, I instinctively started to answer for them. But the clinic staff didn’t want me to answer. They didn’t want to hear the answer from an outsider who will be on another continent in two months. The person who asked the question stopped me and re-directed the question to the girls. As a “muzungu" or an outsider, this rarely happens, which is what made the moment so powerful. To me, this illustrated that the clinic staff took the WISER girls seriously. I believe they see that the WISER girls have the potential to address community needs if they are given the opportunity to take charge of the project. Giving them the skills to take charge of the project with the clinic and future projects to create and either sell or donate lights to community members is exactly what we aspire to accomplish with the entrepreneurship applied to engineering and the advanced engineering curricula this summer. The next time the WISER girls travel to the clinic for a presentation, we hope they will be able to answer all of the the tough questions as they will be describing lights that they themselves have built.

Three WISER girls presenting a flashlight to clinic staff.

Picture: Three WISER girls presenting a flashlight to clinic staff.

--- Jenna Peters, GWHT Fellow, Duke University '17


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