Kendall Covington: Engineering Better Medicines

2015 NAE Grand Challenge Scholar Profile

  • Major: Biomedical Engineering; Neuroscience Minor
  • Grand Challenge: Engineering Better Medicines
  • GC Advisor: Professor Nimmi Ramanujam
  • Project Title: Addressing Global Women’s Health Concerns

By Kendall Covington

My research centers around the theme of "Engineering Better Medicines,” and combines my interests in engineering and global health to improve the health care of women in low-resource settings. Besides taking global health courses, traveling to Nicaragua to repair medical equipment in hospitals and attending global conferences, I am working with Dr. Nimmi Ramanujam in the newly formed Global Women's Health Technology (GWHT) Center on a project that has taken two forms.

"Overall, my experience so far with the Grand Challenge Scholars program has allowed me to truly experience how engineering can be applied to help solve some of the biggest problems in today's world. Never could I have imagined that I would be heading up a project to potentially light up an entire community in Kenya, or that I would be independently designing medical technologies to help improve the clinic care in such an under-resourced setting!"

The first focuses on educating girls in engineering. At an all-girl holistic school in Kenya called WISER, I helped institute an engineering club where we taught the girls how to build renewable energy flashlights using locally available materials. This project empowered the girls, reinforced physics concepts and added creative projects to their otherwise exam-focused curriculum. The 11 groups built over 25 flashlights to help the students study when the power is out at night (which occurs frequently)! Next, we plan to help refine their designs and sell their flashlights to members of the community, allowing them to light up their homes and earn income to support further engineering projects.

The second phase and my senior year’s focus involves designing medical equipment for this area using the Engineering Club girls as on-the-ground collaborators to fully ensure that we are meeting the needs of the community. While in Kenya, we talked to local doctors about their unmet needs—especially relating to HIV—and plan to design a prototype that the Engineering Club students will help with. This unique opportunity will have the girls inform us on the availability of materials, construct prototypes on the ground and gather additional needs information.

Overall, my experience so far with the Grand Challenge Scholars program has allowed me to truly experience how engineering can be applied to help solve some of the biggest problems in today's world. Never could I have imagined that I would be heading up a project to potentially light up an entire community in Kenya, or that I would be independently designing medical technologies to help improve the clinic care in such an under-resourced setting! I think that already this has impacted the direction that my life will take. I now am moving away from the traditional path of graduating school to work for a big medical device company—I do not think it would be satisfying to me—and more toward opportunities like Grand Challenge Scholars that will allow me to directly improve the lives of others.