Engaging Undergraduates to Solve Global Health Challenges: A New Approach Based on Bioengineering Design

Ann Biomed Eng. 2010 Sep;38(9):3031-41. doi: 10.1007/s10439-010-0036-0. Epub 2010 Apr 13.


Recent reports have highlighted the need for educational programs to prepare students for careers developing and disseminating new interventions that improve global public health. Because of its multi-disciplinary, design-centered nature, the field of Biomedical Engineering can play an important role in meeting this challenge. This article describes a new program at Rice University to give undergraduate students from all disciplines a broad background in bioengineering and global health and provides an initial assessment of program impact. Working in partnership with health care providers in developing countries, students in the Beyond Traditional Borders (BTB) initiative learn about health challenges of the poor and put this knowledge to work immediately, using the engineering design process as a framework to formulate solutions to complex global health challenges. Beginning with a freshman design project and continuing through a capstone senior design course, the BTB curriculum uses challenges provided by partners in the developing world to teach students to integrate perspectives from multiple disciplines, and to develop leadership, communication, and teamwork skills. Exceptional students implement their designs under the guidance of clinicians through summer international internships. Since 2006, 333 students have designed more than 40 technologies and educational programs; 28 have been implemented in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, southeast Asia, and the United States. More than 18,000 people have benefited from these designs. 95% of alumni who completed an international internship reported that participation in the program changed or strengthened their career plans to include a focus on global health medicine, research, and/or policy. Empowering students to use bioengineering design to address real problems is an effective way to teach the new generation of leaders needed to solve global health challenges.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Asia, Southeastern
  • Bioengineering / education*
  • Caribbean Region
  • Developing Countries
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency
  • Latin America
  • Leadership
  • Male
  • Public Health / education*
  • United States