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Issue No. 9—Summer 2014
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Rice students put global health design to the test in Malawi

Beyond Traditional Borders_largeIn the days before he left for Malawi with the Beyond Traditional Borders (BTB) program at Rice University, Joao Ascensao ‘16 pulled a small plastic tab from his backpack and held it up. “We just kind of keep them around,” he said.

The unassuming device, an LCTemp neonatal thermometer, represented months of work by Ascensao and three teammates — Truce Pham ’17, Marriam Hussain ’16 and Carlos Carames ’15 — in the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen. They started with a challenge from bioengineering professor and BTB director Dr. Rebecca Richards-Kortum and completed the course with a cheap and accurate thermometer design that mothers can use to determine if their baby has a fever.

At the end of the semester, Ascensao and Pham packed their prototypes and traveled to rural Namitete, Malawi, to test alongside numerous other low-cost medical devices designed by other teams at Rice throughout the year. Now, they are working with clinical staff to determine how their designs work in the field.

“I think it is incredibly useful to be able to see how the doctors and nurses work and utilize different technologies on a daily basis,” Ascensao, who plans to pursue as career in global health, reflected on his project blog.

Beyond Traditional Borders gives Rice students the unique opportunity to work on impactful engineering projects under Richards-Kortum’s watchful eye and then travel abroad to learn firsthand how their designs will work in the challenging and evolving hospital situations.

Rice parents can play a critical role in providing such opportunities for our students. Your support can ensure that talented Rice undergraduates experience and learn from real-world, hands-on global health challenges that lead to both better solutions and stronger young leaders. 

To learn more about Beyond Traditional Borders, click here. To get involved with BTB or to learn how you can make a gift to support internships and more, please contact Liz McGuffee, associate director of development for Rice 360°, at 713-348-4491 or lizmcguffee@rice.edu.

You can also hear more from Professor Richards-Kortum, who will present “Global Health at Rice: How Designing Low Cost Technologies Teaches Courage and Creativity” on Friday, Sept. 19, 2014 at 1 p.m. as a part of Rice Families Weekend (location TBA).

“This has been one of the most significant experiences of my Rice career,” said Ascensao of his Beyond Traditional Borders experience. “I was able to learn a lot about engineering and design, and it’s important to me to be able to apply the concepts that we learn to real life.”

You can follow along with the LCTemp team’s remarkable experience in Malawi on Ascensao’s blog and Pham’s blog. Their research, observations and lessons learned reflect the unique opportunity that Beyond Traditional Borders provides so many Rice students.