U student group provides aid abroad

Student engineers work to improve medical devices in struggling nations.

Biomedical seniors Kara Mendez, left, and Daisha Jensen are working to rebuild the University of Minnesota chapter of Engineering World Health. The organization provides medical resources, skills and support to hospitals in developing countries.

Marisa Wojcik

Biomedical seniors Kara Mendez, left, and Daisha Jensen are working to rebuild the University of Minnesota chapter of Engineering World Health. The organization provides medical resources, skills and support to hospitals in developing countries.

Jeff Hargarten

Kara Mendez spent her summer in developing countries helping fix and design medical devices âÄìâÄì 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 âÄìâÄì a chance now offered to other University engineering, physics and chemistry students who join the group.

Duke University partners with EWH to manage EWHâÄôs 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 doesnâÄôt 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.

âÄúMy days have been jampacked to say the least. Each day feels like a week squeezed into 24 hours,âÄù 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 itâÄôs 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 âÄúdelightedâÄù to learn Mendez and Jensen wanted to launch a new EWH chapter.

âÄúTo know our students are having such impact before they even graduate is extremely gratifying to all of the faculty who strive to educate them,âÄù Tranquillo said.

The program is a âÄúgreat opportunityâÄù for students to impact the lives of people in underdeveloped countries, he said.

The University chapter has âÄúa lot of potentialâÄù because EWH has less of a presence in Minnesota, Benchetrit said.

He hopes it will inspire more students to look into the program and âÄúthink of their engineering skills as a force for good if used appropriately.âÄù

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.