BME to launch exchange program with Tanzanian college

An exchange program between the Nancy E. and Peter C. Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering (BME) and the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Arusha Technical College (ATC) in Arusha, Tanzania will be launching in the spring of 2019.

This exchange program has its roots in a 2013 collaboration between a hospital in Tanzania and some Cornell BME PhD students. One of the Cornell students visited ATC during that collaboration, and over the years the connections between ATC and Cornell have deepened. One of the founding faculty members of the Biomedical Engineering Department at ATC, Menensili Mejooli, is now a Ph.D. student in the lab of Meinig School Associate Professor Chris Schaffer.

In December 2017 Schaffer and fellow BME faculty member Nozomi Nishimura travelled to Arusha and, along with several faculty members of ATC, developed the exchange program. “We were so impressed by what they have been able to do at ATC,” says Schaffer. “They have been able to solve a tough problem that faces so many academic programs: how can your students take what they are learning in the classroom and see those concepts applied in the field, with the potential to have an immediate positive impact in the world?”

“The biomedical engineering students at ATC have great skills and a lot of knowledge of how devices work and how they sometimes fail in clinics and hospitals,” says Nishimura. “Through the exchange program, Cornell students will have the opportunity to work side-by-side with them as they tackle projects in Tanzania.”

The following semester, the ATC students will come to Cornell and work with their Cornell counterparts on senior design projects, as well as take a short course focused on human biology, physiology, and disease team-taught by BME faculty.

During the first week of September, 2018 four faculty members from ATC came to Ithaca to meet with Nishimura and Schaffer. During their stay, Department Head Nicodemus Mbwambo, Professor Shaban Ramadhani, Professor Omary Mzava, and Professor Ally Ngulugulu toured the BME facilities and finalized details of the exchange program. They also had a chance to discuss other avenues for collaboration between the Meinig School and ATC.

On the final day of the ATC faculty visit, the group gathered in the Weill Hall office of Nishimura. Schaffer and Nishimura joined the group as they told the story of biomedical engineering at ATC and gave some of their impressions of Cornell.

Mbwambo found the visit to Cornell valuable and enlightening. “I was so impressed by the facilities here,” he said. “They are world-class. And the sheer amount of research happening in so many fields is mind-boggling. Also, the faculty here have a real sense of cooperation and working together to achieve a goal. This is a sense I hope to take back home to the faculty at ATC.”

“Nicodemus won’t tell you this,” said Schaffer, “but it has taken years of hard effort and good work for ATC to build the relationships and the trust of so many hospitals and health care providers in Tanzania. It’s not something that just happened. Nicodemus and the other faculty and students made it happen. And now ATC is the hub for medical technology for all of northern Tanzania.”

“Our students don’t always get to see how things are used out in the field,” adds Schaffer. “This exchange will give them the chance to see that, and it might even end up affecting their designs for future medical devices once they see how things actually fail.”

In addition to the launch of a new exchange program, Nishimura was pleased to announce that she has won a Changing the Face of STEM (CTFS) Grant from L’Oreal to support one female Tanzanian student involved in the ATC exchange program in its inaugural year.  As a past winner of a L’Oreal USA For Women in Science Fellowship, Nishimura was eligible to apply for the CTFS grant. “This will enable a female Tanzanian student to participate in the program and it will strengthen the network of women in the biomedical engineering profession,” says Nishimura.

The exchange program is slated to start in the summer of 2019.

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