Transcontinental Design: Go With the Flow

I walked into this class with a lot of uncertainty. I had already fulfilled all of my course requirements to graduate, so I did not need to add coursework that might stress me… I had taken design classes at Duke as an undergrad so it was not like I was craving to learn the design process. I had spent my prior summer in Uganda, so it wasn’t just to learn about a new place or enjoy the chance to visit Uganda. Nope; it was an experiment.

Transcontinental Design was the brainchild of Dr. Reichert at Duke and Dr. Ssekitoleko at Makerere University (Uganda) after Dr. Reichert visited Makerere for a year of teaching on a Fulbright Fellowship. I had heard that this class was taking place and thought it was pretty much made for me. I have dedicated my Master’s in Global Health work to Healthcare Technologies in Uganda; how could I not take this course? Although I was a bit nervous to take on anything called “design” (and the heavy workload this usually indicates) during my final semester of my Masters while in the midst of defending my thesis, I decided that being a part of a larger team on design might be feasible. And once I realized my team was actually in Kampala, Uganda, I could not resist.

But I had to put aside all expectations. Not only was it the first time this class has been taught, but I understood that international collaboration projects can be a struggle and patience is required. Each Duke student was assigned to a Makerere student design team which already had a project. Our goal was to work together as a team to design a low-cost technology solution for an observed problem in Uganda.

Although each team has had varying degrees of success so far, we have all had one main struggle: Communication. Yes we are in the days of speedy internet and being able to talk to people anywhere in the world at any time. But in Uganda , internet is expensive, and students can’t just go to any café or even their own college to get free high-speed wifi. My group in particular has struggled with missing each other on communication; having had only one successful internet meeting thus far. All of our other communications have been through WhatsApp text, which can be cumbersome and inefficient. Imagine having a project planning meeting over text only… sigh. Several groups have progressed beyond this communication hurdle and have drafted sketches and selected materials for prototype building. So far I’m excited that we have progressed as a team, but am certain there are additional hurdles in our future—stay tuned!

Picture and Post: Brittany Zick

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