GSIF Blog #6

The Institutional Review Board (IRB) works to ensure ethical and meaningful research on both a national and international level. Because my project involves interacting with respondents in another country, it will likely be expedited through the IRB review process meaning that it is minimal risk but still involves experimental design. My team will have to submit, along with a detailed course of implementation, copies of our survey we plan to use in Sierra Leone. If we decide it is necessary to write the survey in one of the Sierra Leonean languages, Krio or Mende, we will need to submit all translated versions to the IRB. My team’s top priority is to write the survey as soon as possible in order to be able to submit an application for IRB approval. In addition to the survey, we will also need to draft an International Research Appendix which will detail the cultural context of the country we are travelling to as well as describe our planned method for gaining consent from respondents of our survey. Finally, we will need a Translation Documentation Form if our survey is in one of the Sierra Leonean languages. Our main goal at the moment as a team is to complete and fine tune the survey so we can pursue the necessary application process for gaining approval to work internationally.

For my project our main inputs are time, expertise, partners, resources, space, money, and funding. Our participants are our faculty advisors, my teammates, the NIH, Lehigh, and the GSIF. We are trying to serve a larger global need for viral prevention and prediction in order to better understand the spreading of infections and be better prepared for future outbreaks. Professor Mehta is another participant who contributes his knowledge and expertise to our project.Together, we are working to develop a survey to assess potential risk factors and indications of Ebola transmission from bats to humans. We will then use these targeted risk factors in our statistical model combined with infected bat population models developed by our faculty advisors. We are currently collecting background research to apply in our survey design as well as working on fine tuning a statistical model for the data we collect. We hope our efforts improve prediction of future outbreaks and can even serve as a template to model the spread of other viruses as well. Our hope is to make a lasting impact and contribution to the scientific community.

 

GSIF Blog #5

This week’s lecture focused on the design process and bringing seemingly simple ideas to life. I think that a design process that is effective for me would focus around repetition and trial and error of design. For my project specifically there isn’t necessarily a traditional design aspect, however I am developing and designing a survey that has to be effective and useful. The first and largest step in this design process is research. Knowing what information we need for our survey is critical because this forms the basis of our questions. In addition, knowing how to phrase questions and what language and dialect to put it in is also crucial. So deep diving into research and survey development is very important in my design process. Personally, I know my ideas tend to come in spurts, so it usually takes me several drafts of an essay or other pieces of writing to get one I am happy with. Applying this multi-stage design process to survey development would be very useful because many factors go into writing a good survey. Personal biases and phrasing of questions can have the potential to skew answers so testing and workshopping my questionnaire multiple times and going back over questions would most likely spark new ideas or ways to make questions more succinct.

My project concept has a lot of working parts and relies greatly on in-country resources and contacts as well as the technology we decide to use to administer our survey. We are still deciding between using paper surveys, a website, or an app but recently discovered that many people lack the phones or tablets that run apps. With this in mind, if we use an app we most likely will need to add another step of distributing tablets to run the program. Having colleagues and in-country contacts give feedback on our methodology based on their unique insights into Sierra Leone validates that what we are spending this semester working on will actually be effective once we arrive. Their perspectives on what will be effective comes from their experience with the culture and social constructs in country. Even if the technology we use can work, it doesn’t guarantee that respondents will feel comfortable or will want to use it so the validation we have been receiving through feedback has been critical in our survey development process. Furthermore, once we are finished fully composing the questionnaire, my team is partnering with a faculty member in the psychology department with knowledge about survey development who can provide us with advice about our questions and overall structure. This would validate that the survey will be useful and that we will receive the most reliable responses as possible.

I am interested in engaging with global communities in order to drive sustainable solutions to real-life problems. I want to go even beyond what I have learned in the classroom to explore new subject areas. For me, being able to use my skills not just to solve problems, but to solve problems that matter make a significant difference is a driving force for why I choose to engage. I also love making connections with people. Learning more about different perspectives and ways of life makes me more aware of the world around me and gives me a purpose beyond just waking up and going to sleep every day. Engaging in a positive way with communities, partners, and markets to me means being respectful, open minded, willing to learn, and engaging. The most valuable resources are the perspectives and insights of those who have years of experience and I think by working together constructively, their knowledge can be used to its fullest potential.

GSIF Blog #4

Nature can be unexpected and mysterious, teaching us valuable lessons we can apply to both innovative technology and to life in general. Janine Benyus’s TED Talk focuses on Biomimicry and using patterns and processes in nature to solve technological problems. Specifically, she gives an example of using CO2 as feedstock, similarly to how plants use CO2 to form long carbon chains of glucose and starch they build together to make energy. This demonstrates that similarly to how plants use something that we see as toxic to create useful energy, we can use CO2 in a useful way with a catalyst. This is a great demonstration of being useful and being sustainable in our practices which is essential in a world that is changing rapidly. Small bumps on a whale’s tail improves its ability to glide through the water efficiently and engineers put similar bumps on the side of airplane wings and improved their efficiency by 32% which is a significant fossil fuel savings. Creating technologies that are effective, efficient, and cost-saving are important as well.  A lotus leaf is able to self cleans itself through the surface of its leaves. A company created building paint that self-cleans when it rains. Creating products and solutions that are self-sustaining is essential in social impact work and meaningful while trying to make a positive change.

In the journal, Life’s Principles as a Framework for Designing Successful Social Enterprises, the principle that stuck out to me the most was “Optimize rather than maximize”. What was interesting to me was how this principle discussed how things in nature don’t focus on maximizing the whole, but rather individual components. Individual systems have their own goals but all systems work also towards a common goal. I think in my project this is important because each of us have our own skill-set, technical background, and other strengths. Rather than spread ourselves thin learning every aspect and process of the project, having each person specialize in one facet while still understanding and being fluent in other areas is the best way to approach the project and is also the most efficient. In my life I would also like to apply this concept. I think sometimes I can be a little too big picture without focusing on the smaller details that contribute to the whole. Honing in on things I would like to improve on and making smaller goals as a stepping stone to larger ones can help me fine-tune my strengths, rather than spreading myself thin.

The cradle to cradle design process focuses on optimizing ventures to reduce waste, either reutilizing materials or putting them back into the Earth as bionutrients. My project in particular isn’t creating a new technology or process, but rather making a survey to be distributed. But still during the design and execution process we need to account for waste and energy used to distribute and administer surveys. Considering using paperless surveys if possible would eliminate some waste as well as the physical energy and resources needed to distribute it throughout a country without much infrastructure. In addition, in my life I find it important to not add waste and be as sustainable as possible in order to keep Earth in a livable state .

It is pretty common for my friends to introduce me to what would otherwise be alien concepts. My roommate was telling me about how she met the man who found scutoids. I had no clue what scutoids were until she described them as a geometric solid between two parallel surfaces, a new shape. I hadn’t realized discovering new shapes was really possible. My friend who lives in Greece was telling me about the dynamic at his university. He told me that usually all students rent their own apartments and everyone is mainly self-focused and not usually interested in making connections with other students. Academic life is very separate from social life. This was really surprising and is very different than then the environment at Lehigh and most schools in America where students live, learn, eat, and sleep in the same area and community. Coming to Lehigh I also learned from my friends that athletic-type shoes are called sneakers on the East Coast while in California where I’m from they’re called tennis shoes, even if they’re not used for tennis. My friends pointed out that it didn’t make sense to call all athletic shoes tennis shoes and I had never really thought about the fact that it wasn’t logical. Honestly, I hadn’t even noticed until my friends pointed it out.

GSIF Blog #3

Stakeholders are a significant resource in any project as they can provide monetary support as well as advice and guidance. Since stakeholders are invested in projects, monetarily or not, they are motivated to see a project advance and be successful. Our project surrounds Ebola, a virus that has made global headlines over the past several years, which means that there are many people who have personal stake in my group gathering effective and accurate data to predict future outbreaks and better prepare for them. The most obvious stakeholder in the project is my team, which is comprised of two other Lehigh students as well as two professors, Javier Buceta and Paolo Bocchini. All of us have a strong desire to see the project succeed as we are invested in social impact and will have dedicated months of effort to put our survey in action. Our project’s success would also mean making a breakthrough in the scientific community and would make a difference of global-scale. Personally, this project is the first I have undertaken since my time at Lehigh and so being able to make progress on our goal or even achieve it would be impactful to me personally as well. Another stakeholder is Lehigh University, through its facilitation of our work through the Global Social Impact Fellowship program. Lehigh is invested in our success because not only does the University want to be at the forefront of impactful research, but also because it wants students to be able to use skills taught in the classroom to work with peers in a real-world setting. The National Institute of Health is one of our partners for our project and by attaching their name to it, they have a stake in its success as well. If the research that we publish is in any way unreliable, they risk their reputation as an organization, although likely not on a large scale. Because they formed this partnership, they are also invested in the project itself and the impact it will make. Some of the most personally invested stakeholders are the people in Sierra Leone who have personally been affected by Ebola, many of whom lost loved ones to the virus. They hold stake in our project because predicting and preparing more effectively for future outbreaks could save countless lives as once someone is infected with Ebola, their survival rate is only around 10%. Similarly, healthcare officials in Sierra Leone are also stakeholders as they are responsible for the functionality and upkeep of healthcare in the entire country. The nation was destroyed by the epidemic over the several years and although the disease is no longer active in Sierra Leone, it still is at risk. Preparing for future outbreaks is a significant interest of healthcare officials so they hold a great stake in our project as well.

Another important aspect of any successful research project is its credibility. Even if project has collected data from tens of millions of people, if it isn’t reliable it becomes useless. Currently, our partnership with NIH improves the validity of our project, but a solid goal for the semester would be to establish ties with other organizations who have a long-standing reputation in the global impact stage as well as ties with the government of Sierra Leone, specifically in the health division. Having this support would enhance our reliability in the professional realm as well as potentially provide funding support for the project that we currently do not have. Another way to enhance the credibility of our project would be to work with professional data collection scientists with expertise in survey development in order to ensure that our survey is effective. Having a professional check our completed survey would validate that the data we will be collecting is done so in a way that yields the most accurate results, making our project more reliable. Finally, testing our survey before implementation is critical as we may be writing a survey in several languages. Having native speakers take and test our survey would ensure that we are not travelling across the world to implement a survey that cannot be properly understood or answered by respondents. Even if we write the survey in only English, testing it in Sierra Leone with people who speak English to varying degrees would improve how reliable our final data will turn out to be.

GSIF Blog #2

I am a part of the team investigating the socioeconomic factors that contribute to Ebola. Cultural issues comprise some of the greatest challenges of constructing and implementing our survey and the project in general. Making a survey that inquires about the socio-economic background of respondents has been done many times before, but creating questions that can be answered accurately and reliably by respondents the unique cultural dynamic of Sierra Leone is much more challenging.

For example, before constructing our survey we must determine whether we should write the survey in English, Krio, or Mende because different languages are spoken throughout different regions of the country and varying levels of English are understood as well. In addition, I learned in the workshop that most girls stop attending school after Primary School despite having free education through high school. This significantly impacts how we will craft our survey as the data we collect may be inaccurate if certain groups do not fully understand questions being asked. Our team will have to determine whether we can deliver the survey in only English or if we need to create separate versions in Krio or Mende. In addition, once we are on the ground in Sierra Leone we must be very mindful of the tasks we need to complete because concept of time is different in the country. Something that may take a day in the States could take five or more in Sierra Leone. Being focused and precise with what we should accomplish will make the trip the most worthwhile.

Personally, I have some experience with language barriers and misinterpretation within my family because my Grandmother is Greek and speaks very basic English. We usually speak in a combination of Greek and English while talking to each other so we both can understand. Even within my family I have a unique dialect with my Grandmother, so I can imagine how complex the mix of languages in-country may be. My Greek side of the family is also chronically late to everything and spends over two hours eating dinner each night which, from stories from past students who travelled, is similar to the culture in Sierra Leone.

Although cultural differences can sometimes pose difficulties while working in the field of social impact, they can also be used to our team’s advantage. For example, the healthcare system in Sierra Leone is very complex and unclear until it is fully explained. In my project, the format of the system is actually easier for my team to work with than if we were administering our survey in somewhere like America with lots of boundaries and diverse stakeholders in the healthcare system. The Sierra Leonian system makes it easier to find a point within the chain of clinics, hospitals, nurses, community health workers, etc.. to find a target who can administer the survey effectively.  In addition, the members of communities who will be respondents of our surveys and leaders in the healthcare system have all been personally affected by the Ebola epidemic and have significant motivation to help our effort to better predict and prepare for future outbreaks. This means that they will likely provide us with resources to aid our research in-country.

The African context presents a unique set of challenges that differ from the American context. As I mentioned, the Sierra Leonian healthcare system can also be very complex so understanding roles of key players in the system that differ from positions in the States is essential. The lack of uniform internet connection throughout the country, especially in rural areas, presents a challenge because if my team decides to administer the survey via website or app, internet connection, as well as the necessary technology, must be available. In the US there is internet connection in virtually every corner.

The African context also provides resources that are different than those in America. Contacting people in Sierra Leone can be all about who knows who and connections that our in-country contacts have. World Hope, for example, has staff who know the ins and outs of the healthcare system and know community health workers and other workers in the industry that could be valuable to our team. In addition, Ebola mobilizers are unique resources who are experts in the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone as they lived and struggled through it. No resource is as valuable as first-hand experience, especially in a different context than in America. In addition, the tight-knit rural communities in the country make it so that we can collect data about patients with Ebola, most of whom have not survived, as those close to victims likely know more intimate information than what would be shared with friends and family in America.

Blog Post #1 GSIF

My name is Anna Smith and I am a Global Social Impact Fellow working on the project Assessing Socioeconomic Factors Underlying Ebola Infection. I enrolled in this course because I’m very interested in sustainable development and the intersection between Engineering, Health, and Policy. I also want to gain real-world experience by applying skills learned in the classroom to a pressing world problem while stepping outside of my comfort zone. I don’t have prior research experience so I’m very excited to engage with faculty mentors who are very knowledgeable about the field and hope to also learn about new areas of Engineering that I possibly hadn’t considered studying. In addition, I love to travel and learn about different cultures and people. I volunteered about three years ago during the refugee crisis in Greece and travelled there to sort food and clothing to provide for incoming refugees. It was an eye opening experience and seeing people risk everything to provide better lives for their families touched me greatly. Since then, I’ve been passionate about service and public policy and I want to pursue a career in which I can give back to local and global communities. I saw the GSIF program as an opportunity to expand my skill set and learn more about myself while working to make a positive difference.

I see myself becoming a better Materials Science Engineer through the program because although my project doesn’t directly relate to Materials Science, the coding, design, and implementation of the app we’re creating will make me a better coder, critical thinker, and communicator. In any field, being able to create a product or solution and fluently present it is invaluable. I think this course specifically will make me a more well rounded Engineer with the ability to look at Engineering problems through a social or policy lens to create more effective solutions. The workshops and presentations will not only help me learn about the importance and struggles of social impact, but also grow my professional skills. I think in addition to making me a better Engineer, it will also make me a better person. I think that often times I can get caught up in my own bubble and I think it would be beneficial to be more cognisant of the world around me and to think deeply about important issues past what is shown in the media or news.

The lack of eyeglasses for people in developing nations like Kenya is caused in part by the lack of optometrists to diagnose patients as well as the inability to obtain the glasses themselves. The first step in solving the problem for those who don’t even know they need glasses is to improve access to optometry in developing nations. Having mobile clinics that can check on patients in many towns would be a way that groups of several optometrists can visit multiple towns, even in one day. However, once a patient starts to wear glasses their vision usually can worsen so training more optometrists could help as well. The next step would be to improve access to the eyeglasses themselves. A storage box similar to the design of Little Free Library, a concept where books are kept in a wooden container with shelves on the sidewalk of streets. You take and return books like a normal library. A communal “eyeglass library” could foster a sense of community and trust while increasing access to eyeglasses for residents of a town. In addition, manufactured eyeglasses with recycled plastics for frames as a novelty item could be sold online or in US retailers with one pair of glasses donated with every purchase to incentivise purchasing the glasses through the novelty of them being plastic as well as the appeal of donating. Alleviating the need for eyeglasses in developing nations by providing them to one billion people is a large challenge with many potential solutions and will likely take many different approaches to solve.