New engineering club aids in medical practices overseas

Kyle Mooney, mechanical engineering sophomore, builds a difibrilator tester to send to Third World Countries. Photo courtesy of Jen Van Donk

Kyle Mooney, mechanical engineering sophomore, builds a difibrilator tester to send to Third World Countries. Photo courtesy of Jen Van Donk

Like most students trying to find an internship, Tim O’Neill and Jen Van Donk were searching through Web pages when they stumbled upon Engineering World Health (EWH), a non-profit organization that assembles medical devices and sends them to hospitals in developing countries.

Van Donk, a mechanical engineering senior, and O’Neill, a biomedical engineering senior, had never met until the national group put them in contact. They then realized they shared the goal of impacting the lives of those living in impoverished areas.

O’Neill, who hopes to use his experience in the club to develop a career in the medical field, said, “I have seen so much awareness for others who are in need. It came to a point where I wanted to leave Cal Poly feeling like I made a difference. While studying to become a biomedical engineer, it occurred to me that I can really help others who are less fortunate.”

EWH sells kits for defibrillators and electro surgical tools to chapters who purchase them for about $18. Engineering Department Chair and club coordinator, Dr. Andrew Davol made a personal donation to help sponsor the first group of kits the club assembled, but now members are reaching into their own pockets to buy more.

Davol had heard of the organization a year ago at a engineering meeting. Though he was hesitant to sign on as the club’s faculty advisor due to his already busy schedule, he decided to take on the position, seeing the opportunities it could provide to students. When Engineering Without Borders, an organization that travels to other countries to help with development, had recieved overwhelming applications, Davol saw an opportunity with EWH. He hopes it will act as an extension reaching out to students who want to take their skills abroad and have an impact.

When asked what sets this club apart, Davol said, “The focus sets it apart because it’s a service that a lot engineers want to use to give back.”

On Build-it-Days the club gathers to put together the equipment by carefully melting down metal tubing and connecting it to circuit boards. O’Neill said that his first time assembling a device was difficult, but with a little practice and patience he has become more comfortable and hopes to tackle larger projects in the future.

Financing the project kits and gathering equipment to refurbish have caused difficulties for the new club. O’Neill is hopeful that by merging with Direct Relief International, the students will be given more opportunities to gain experience by not only working on clinical tools, but also learning about the people who use the devices.

By joining with Direct Relief International, located in Santa Barbara, the club hopes to refurbish medical equipment and establish relationships with the hospitals and clinics giving the items. The Cal Poly EWH chapter is currently looking at refurbishing hospital beds and plans to later work on larger equipment like life support machines.

“One of the main concerns of the organization is designing equipment that is more appropriate to the needs of developing countries,” Van Donk said. “That is why this organization employs young engineers to help with the designing rather than just sending them all our used equipment.”

The club welcomes all majors and members of the community.

“The beauty of the club is that we teach what needs to be done so you don’t have to have experience to get involved,” he said.

This summer EWH plans to attend a summer program through the national organization to visit Tanzania and Costa Rica to help repair equipment in local clinics. The trip will cost $6,000 for each student, but to cut down on costs the club plans to apply for financial aid and fund raise through local businesses.

“We want to build off the strong foundation we have so far,” Van Donk said. “We also really want to see the club continue in the future and have an ever growing impact in our community as well as overseas.”


Matt says:

For us engineering graduates who want to help. How can we donate?

John says:

Way cool, Jen & Tim!