Clearly, we are very excited to be finally meeting face-to-face.

While I have been in touch with my MUK team for over one month, through WhatsApp and emails, a critical element of success was missing—connection. Conversation was limited to the topics of design ideas and product development. I lacked understanding of the MUK team’s dynamic, goals, and personal interests. I can only assume they felt the same about me. It has always been important for me to establish a personal connection with my team, in order to be comfortable enough to move past the initial awkwardness, speak openly about ideas and criticisms, and reach harmony. It is very difficult to achieve this personal connection online, resulting in the spotty and non-constructive communication during the first month of the partnership.

I felt both excited and nervous when anticipating the chance to meet my MUK colleagues in person. Excited because we would finally be provided with the space necessary to talk freely about our interests, our experiences, and our personal and professional goals. Nervous because I wondered how they viewed this partnership (if they even valued it) and if we could get past the initial awkwardness that is inherent in first encounters.

Our advisors, Dr. Reichert and Dr. Ssekitoleko, provided us with the goal of preparing a presentation that discussed our team’s progress. My goal, however, was to use this opportunity to connect with my teammates. After three hours discussing design ideas and personal lives, I was very excited about our partnership. We talked about our universities, BME programs, childhoods, and career aspirations. They told me about the biggest problems MUK BME students face, such as the lack of access to prototype materials and the shortage of medical innovation companies in Uganda, limiting their opportunities post-graduation. All wanted to pursue some type of further education, such as an M.S. or MBA degree, to place themselves in better positions as medical device innovators.

Through this time, and a couple of other meetings throughout the week in Kampala, I was able to build a personal connection with my teammates. I think that we all gained better understanding of the lenses through which we view the world and could appreciate how our backgrounds shaped our approach to this project. While we have a lot of work to do before completing a prototype, I now feel like a true member of the team (they even added my initial to the team name, changing it from SENTI-TECH to SENTIM-TECH). Project success depends on the team dynamic, and reaching the level of personal comfort necessary for a productive dynamic is very difficult for an international team, as I experienced during the first month of this project. The opportunity to travel to Kampala and meet my teammates was critical in defining our team structure and in maximizing the success of the Duke-MUK partnership.

I am leaving Kampala with not only a refined design for our project, but with a greater global network, a stronger design team, and new friends.

Picture & Post by Maitreyee Mittal

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