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Beyond Traditional Borders sends more Rice U. undergrads to Africa

HOUSTON -- June 9, 2008 -- Rice University's global health initiative Beyond Traditional Borders (BTB) is sending 17 students to Africa, the Caribbean and Central America this summer to combat health problems like HIV/AIDS.

The BTB international summer internship program, which sent seven undergraduate interns to southern Africa in its inaugural year in 2007, is working with more local organizations this year and expanding its reach into Latin America. This year's interns will work in schools, health clinics, hospitals and town councils to try to solve health problems using both education and technology.

"We have expanded the number of countries and continents that Rice students are reaching, and we're growing the number of partner organizations we're working with as well," said BTB Director Yvette Mirabal. "The goal is to grow the opportunities we offer students to develop into leaders advancing world health."

This effort fits in with Rice University's goal of providing a holistic undergraduate experience that equips students to make a distinctive impact on the world.

As in 2007, the bulk of BTB's 2008 interns will visit schools and clinics in southern Africa. Thirteen of the interns will work in Lesotho, two will travel to Botswana and two will split time between Haiti and Guatemala. All the interns will chronicle their experiences in a blog at

All of the interns completed global-health courses at Rice, and many took engineering design courses, working in teams to develop medical prototypes that they'll test this summer. These include a Lab-in-a-Backpack, a portable medical diagnostic kit containing both basic supplies and a battery-powered microscope and solar-powered battery charger; a lightweight, portable system that measures AIDS drugs and helps doctors make sure patients stick to strict drug regimens; a battery-powered monitor to prevent children from overdosing on intravenous fluids; and a battery-powered neonatal pulse oximeter that uses a finger cuff to automatically measure the oxygen content in an infant's blood.

Funded with a $2.2 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Beyond Traditional Borders is designed to help students reach beyond traditional geographic and disciplinary boundaries to solve health-care problems in the developing world.

BTB interns Meagan Barry and Tiffany Yeh were the first to depart this summer, leaving the day after commencement for a four-week stay in Haiti that will be followed by a six-week program in Guatemala. Barry, a biosciences major, graduated last month. Yeh, a cognitive sciences major, will be a senior in the fall.

In northern Haiti, Barry and Yeh are implementing a health-education program for elementary students at the St. Barthelemy School in the town of Terrier Rouge. They are interacting with 450 children in classes ranging from kindergarten through fifth grade. Using in-class lessons and homework, Barry and Yeh are teaching basic hygiene and health, such as how diseases like dysentery are transmitted, as well as how common practices like hand-washing can prevent infection.

In a May 30 blog entry, Barry described a classsroom experiment in which she and Yeh used a microscope connected to a laptop computer to show the children the many germs in water from a muddy puddle. The children had to compare the dirty water to a sample of purified water. Later that afternoon, the Rice students met a man who excitedly thanked them for their work. His children attend the school, and they had already told him about the morning's lesson.

"Tiffany and I were so happy that the children were sharing their experiences with their parents and that they understood the purpose of the experiments!" Barry wrote.

Barry and Yeh will next travel to Guatemala, where they'll work for six weeks with Faith in Practice, a Houston-based nonprofit that sends volunteer teams of surgical personnel to the developing world. One goal is to identify the obstacles surgeons face in the country, both in large hospitals and rural clinics. They'll also work with Medical Bridges, a second Houston nonprofit that sends medical supplies to the developing world, to determine which medical inventory is most useful to volunteer surgical teams.

"Ultimately, we hope to expand our understanding of our collaborators' most pressing needs and to identify technical problems that Rice students can work on solving in BTB's global health technologies design courses," Mirabal said.


Contact: B. J. Almond
Rice University

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