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Cornell, Tanzanian students share knowledge in new exchange program

Menansili Mejooli, standing, a Ph.D. student in the Schaffer-Nishimura Lab, works with students from Arusha Technical College in Tanzania.

A new exchange program will present biomedical students from Cornell and the Arusha Technical College (ATC) in Tanzania with unique opportunities from opposite sides of the globe.

Beginning in the spring 2019 semester, the program will allow students from Cornell’s Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering to travel to Tanzania and work with ATC engineers to repair equipment in medical facilities.

“The students at ATC have great skills and a lot of knowledge of how devices work and how they sometimes fail in clinics and hospitals,” said Nozomi Nishimura, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and co-founder of the program along with Chris Schaffer, associate professor of biomedical engineering.

Schaffer added that it’s also an opportunity for students to see how equipment is used outside of a laboratory setting.

“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,” Schaffer said.

The following semester, ATC students will come to Ithaca and work with their Cornell counterparts on senior design projects, and take a short course focused on human biology, physiology and disease.

The exchange program has its roots in a collaboration between Cornell and Bugando Medical Centre – a Tanzanian medical facility affiliated with Weill Cornell Medicine – and the connections between ATC and Cornell deepened when one of the founding faculty members of ATC’s Department of Electrical and Biomedical Engineering, Menansili Mejooli, became a doctoral student in the Schaffer-Nishimura Lab.

The idea for the exchange program was born when Nishimura and Shaffer traveled to Tanzania in 2017.

From left, Menansili Mejooli, Cornell doctoral student; Nicodemus Mbwambo, Omary Mzava and Shaban Ramadhani, all Arusha Technical College professors; Chris Schaffer, Cornell associate professor; Nozomi Nishimura, Cornell assistant professor; and Ally Ngulugulu, ATC professor.

“We were so impressed by what they have been able to do at ATC,” said 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 and have an immediate impact in the world?”

During the first week of September, four ATC faculty members came to Cornell to tour its facilities and finalize details of the exchange program. They also discussed other avenues for collaboration between the Meinig School and ATC.

“I was so impressed by the facilities here,” said Nicodemus Mbwambo, professor of electrical and biomedical engineering at ATC. “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.”

The exchange program is partially funded by a Changing the Face of STEM grant from L’Oreal, which will support one female Tanzanian student in the program’s inaugural year, and an Engaged Curriculum Grant.

Chris Dawson is a marketing and brand manager for the College of Engineering.

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