http://www.mndaily.com/2012/01/19/u-student-group-provides-aid-abroad crosslisted from MNDaily.com
By Jeff Hargarten 2012 / 01 / 19
Kara Mendez spent her summer in developing countries helping fix and design medical devices -- an experience that inspired her to start a new student group after returning home.
Mendez and fellow student traveler Daisha Jensen founded the new University of Minnesota chapter of Engineering World Health, an organization that sends its members to countries where health care technology is needed the most.
At the University, members in the group hold repair sessions to fix donated medical equipment and work with professionals in the biomedical industry, along with partaking in various social activities.
EWH students also have the opportunity to design medical devices, compete in contests and travel to developing countries, said Julien Benchetrit, a technology designer at the organization.
Being a member of EWH allowed Mendez to visit Costa Rica and Honduras -- a chance now offered to other University engineering, physics and chemistry students who join the group.
Duke University partners with EWH to manage EWH's Summer Institute, the program Mendez used to travel abroad.
There are fees attached to its programs in Africa and Central America, but EWH helps students with fundraising and provides financial aid.
About half of the medical equipment in health facilities in developing countries as well as about 70 percent of the donated medical equipment doesn't work, according to EWH.
Engineers live with a local family and undergo a month of training, spending their mornings learning native languages.
Mendez had to brush up on her Spanish after four years without practice to make communication with hospital staff easier.
This was followed by a month working in a local hospital.
"My days have been jampacked to say the least. Each day feels like a week squeezed into 24 hours," Mendez said.
She had been blogging her experiences until reaching Honduras. The poorer conditions in the country were different than expected, she said, and she lost easy access to an Internet connection.
EWH was founded in 2001 by two University of Memphis professors as a nonprofit to improve health care technology in the third world.
Students in EWH chapters typically volunteer with organizations that donate medical equipment to ensure it's used properly. They build kits to provide low-cost medical devices to countries that need them.
Robert Tranquillo, a University chemical engineering professor, said he was "delighted" to learn Mendez and Jensen wanted to launch a new EWH chapter.
"To know our students are having such impact before they even graduate is extremely gratifying to all of the faculty who strive to educate them," Tranquillo said.
The program is a "great opportunity" for students to impact the lives of people in underdeveloped countries, he said.
The University chapter has "a lot of potential" because EWH has less of a presence in Minnesota, Benchetrit said.
He hopes it will inspire more students to look into the program and "think of their engineering skills as a force for good if used appropriately."
EWH also has programs in Ghana, Cambodia, Tanzania and Rwanda.
The application deadline for students to travel abroad through the summer program is Jan. 28.