November 17, 2021

An Easy Yes for ExchangeAlumni to Lead and Continue their Virtual Exchange Journeys

Naja and Deema

Meet Naja K., 22, and Deema K., 22. They are currently facilitators for Engineering World Health’s (EWH) Virtual Engineering Innovation and Cultural Exchange (VEIC) program. They participated in EWH’s Summer 2020 iteration of VEIC, a course which brings together students from the United States and Lebanon to focus on low-resource design and engineering for healthcare in an international setting. These ExchangeAlumni now guide young people in the U.S. and Lebanon to take part in meaningful cross-cultural experiences through virtual exchange.

As students in last year’s five-week program, Naja and Deema had the opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds and cultures, and improve their communication and teamwork skills by working together on biomedical engineering projects. 

Naja’s team worked on a design to improve the supply chain of medical devices in low-resource environments, a project that won the design competition at the end of the program. He still keeps in touch with his teammates from Arizona and Texas to catch up once in a while and see what they’re up to. 

Deema’s team designed and presented a low-cost, portable infant incubator alternative, through which she learned about conceptual design, functional architecture, technical feasibility, entrepreneurship, and circuit system development.

Naja and Deema wanted to build upon what was already an enriching experience from last year’s program, so when they were asked to return as facilitators, the answer was an easy “yes.” From June through August, they spent a total of 12 weeks working with high school and university students from the United States and Lebanon, acting as mentors and guides as students work through self-directed learning modules, collaborate virtually in groups, and innovate solutions to global health challenges. Because of their own participation in the program prior to facilitating, Naja and Deema are able to leverage their own experience participating in the program to support current participants. 

Naja’s favorite part about working with participants is seeing them improve and gain confidence in their communication skills throughout the program. “I was able to put my communication and facilitation skills to use by guiding the participants through the program material and helping them identify healthcare problems in low-resource settings. I also leveraged my knowledge about the program and material to effectively manage the sessions and provide better feedback for participants,“ Naja said.

Both Naja and Deema would recommend that other students participate in EWH’s Virtual Engineering Innovation and Cultural Exchange in the future, and seek out other opportunities for virtual cross-cultural exchange. “I learned so much: I truly felt I was submerged in the different cultures,” said Deema. “You have the chance to meet different people and know more about their cultures, while also working on something that is important: innovating for healthcare in low-resource settings,” said Naja.

As an engineer, Deema says that she has witnessed first-hand that “challenges are the driving force of solutions,” and she plans to continue challenging herself and encouraging her students to do the same. “It is okay to ask questions and be unfamiliar with tasks. You are there to learn!”

Naja recently graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Notre Dame University – Louaize in Lebanon, the same university where Deema earned her degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering. Naja considers his experience as a student and facilitator to be a milestone in his academic and professional path. His future plans include staying in the engineering field and possibly pursuing graduate studies. Thanks to his virtual exchange experience, he has the necessary interpersonal skills and resourcefulness to reach his goals.

Engineering World Health’s Virtual Engineering Innovation & Cultural Exchange is supported by the Stevens Initiative, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, with funding provided by the U.S. Government, and is administered by the Aspen Institute. The Stevens Initiative is also supported by the Bezos Family Foundation and the governments of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.