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Marathon Summer: Unconventional Engineering

Samantha Orland

*Guest blog by my roommate and fellow burger-enthusiast, Mary Kate Hardy

Vanderbilt Engineering is always doing cool things. Sometimes I think that the engineering school is like a treasure trove where you can uncover new exciting gems every week, like this crazy award winning robotic leg and low resource projects with big budgets from Bill Gates.  The really awesome thing is that students, even undergrads, are involved in these projects!

Last semester I discovered one of the hidden gems of engineering in the form of a Biomedical Engineering elective course, titled Service Learning in Guatemala.  This course included a trip to Guatemala over Spring Break to repair and service medical equipment.  Never have I had more fun in an engineering class.  The hands-on learning experience was incredible, and fine dining and zip lining with your professors was a blast too. A few of the students in my class blogged about our experience, so you can read more about the trip here.

Our crew and translators after a long day at the hospital in Guatemala!

Through experiences like these, I’ve developed a real passion for healthcare in the developing world. I’ve seen firsthand how biomedical engineering can play a huge role in getting quality healthcare to patients who have more limited resources than we have in America.  After participating in the EWH Summer Institute last summer, I wanted this summer to be filled with more learning about this topic while actively helping others.  I sent literally a million emails (editor’s note: she’s exaggerating a bit) to every organization I could find that might align with my interests.

In this picture: a lot of fun and a lot of junk, but also a spectrophotometer, incubator, centrifuge, and extension cord that we repaired!

When my professor was in Guatemala earlier this semester preparing for our trip, she met with a few really cool people there to talk about exciting engineering plans (can I be any more vague, you ask?  I don’t want to spoil her secrets).  One of the cool people pulled out a resume and asked my professor if she knew the person.  Guess what…twas me!  Turns out my resume was passed along from my old EWH SI instructor in Canada to a jillion organizations to a guy in Michigan, who ended up meeting my Vanderbilt professor in Guatemala.  Small world!

Long story short, this summer I’ll be interning with three different organizations in the U.S. and three more organizations in Guatemala, and the experience should help me to see the big picture of biomedical and technical aid to the developing world.  Neither of my parents are engineers, so I’m especially glad to have my VUSE engineering mentor around to ask for advice and guidance.  The VUSE alumni mentor program started this year, and they pair you with an alumni whose career matches your interests.  I think my mentor has the coolest job in the world.

Here’s to another crazy summer trying to discover where engineering at Vanderbilt can take me!  Who knows, maybe next I’ll go to the moon!

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