Healthcare Meets Community – A ‘Clinic-in a Backpack’ designed for Healthcare Workers in Africa

How can you increase vaccination rates in countries such as Nigeria where there are huge gaps in distance as well as trust between the national health care system and the rural communities?

Last week I attended the end-of-academic-year Stanford University Design EXPE 2013. EXPE stands for EXPErience and is a once-a-year event where Stanford’s Mechanical Engineering Design Group “invites you to join us as we celebrate our students’ creative work in design research, design practice, engineering, and manufacturing.” I have attended these annual project fairs before, and they never fail to make me leave with delight, excitement and hope. To me, this is learning and education at its best.

The section of the Design EXPE that I attended was the ME310 Global Design Innovation Program. ME310 is a program that brings together industry and academia to train graduate students at Stanford and global academic partner institutions to become tomorrow’s design engineers and innovation leaders. Over nine months, teams of US and international graduate students apply creative problem-solving and design techniques and tools and innovation processes to explore and solve real-world design challenges. During these nine months they experience first-hand multi-disciplinary and cultural diversity in a global context by collaborating with local and international teammates to create functional prototypes that show their solutions.

Stanford Design EXPE 2013 Get Square Reinhold Steinbeck

Stanford EXPE 2103 CareSquare
© 2013 Reinhold Steinbeck

Coming back to the challenge of bridging the health care system and the rural communities in Nigeria, this was not your typical ME310 mechatronics project. The ‘corporate’ partner for this project challenge was Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund. The students on the Unicef team came from Stanford and Aalto, a new multi-disciplinary university located in the Helsinki Metropolitan area, one of the World Design Capitals. The solution the team came up with after the initial field research in Nigeria and many brainstorming sessions and rounds of prototyping was a backpack that included all the tools needed to conduct a mobile immunization drive.

Another team of students worked on a project that was quite different from the Unicef challenge.

The AudiEvolve team was charged with ‘designing a futuristic autonomous vehicle cabin solution for smooth transitions between various cabin activities’. They had a booth with a working prototype using real car seats provided by Audi. The team’s solution included two parts: An interactive steering wheel that automatically switched between the manual driving and the autonomous driving mode by pushing or pulling on the steering wheel. It had also an integrated interactive tablet for use as an input device for working during the autonomous driving mode. The anticipatory driver’s seat had built-in sensors to anticipate when the driver wanted to rotate or recline.

A few years ago I spent a semester in Cali, Colombia, at one of the universities participating in the ME310 program. The purpose of the research visit was to look at the impact this program had on the students in Cali, but also at the potential impact on the institution. The Pontificia Universidad Javeriana was at the time the first university from South America participating in the program. The interviews that I conducted as well as my observations certainly confirmed my feelings and impressions that these kinds of global team- and project-based courses represent learning and education at its best. Here are two of my favorite quotes from my interviews:

” … for me [ME310] is the most spectacular and awesome experience. I am not here in this to just learn about academic things, also I am learning a lot of things about relationships, about experience with life, about process, about the university, about countries, this is something that involves your life.”

”[Being] a student [in ME310] you start with [closed] eyes and then you go out and you can see the sunshine. But sometimes that sunshine blinds you, because it’s so strong, and you go ahead, but you can’t see everything you have to see. So in that moment, those people [the teaching and coaching team] appear and give you sun glasses. And then you can observe everything better.”

A copy of the paper of my research at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Cali is available here (Building Creative Competence in Globally Distributed Courses through Design Thinking).

Stanford Design EXPE 2013 EVOLVE © Reinhold Steinbeck

Stanford EXPE 2013 AudiEvolve
© Reinhold Steinbeck