“I’m really glad I got to start a project from its infancy and use good, ethically sound methodology from the beginning.” Completing her final year in the College of Engineering, Rachel Ross has been involved with BLUElab’s India Project and Global Health Design Initiative during her time on campus.

Rachel remembers learning about BLUElab on one of her first visits to U of M’s campus and knew she wanted to join the socially engaged design organization when she started school in the College of Engineering as a freshman. For her, working with the BLUElab India Project (BLIP) team was a first exposure to the concepts of socially engaged design.

During her first year at U of M, Ross immersed herself in the work BLIP was doing, helping the team prepare for a needs assessment trip in Gujarat. “I did a lot of ethnographic research. I was checking out library books about Gujarat… that was my conception of how to do design.” Ross was able to follow the design process of the BLIP team throughout her time at U of M and says that she is “really glad I got to start a project from its infancy and use good, ethically sound methodology from the beginning.”

Rachel working with BLIP to build cookstoves in Gujarat, India in 2016.

Ross’s foundation in socially engaged design led her to apply to the Global Health Design Initiative (GHDI) in 2017. Ross describes GHDI as “the medical device centered version of socially engaged design,”a perfect marriage of her interests and field of study. She was placed on a project working to develop a patient turning aid for a hospital in Kenya. The device was a mechanical winch system, designed to help reposition bed bound patients to prevent pressure ulcers. Ross explains that the project was at a phase in the design process she wasn’t as familiar with. “It was to a phase where they were looking at how do they manufacture it, and what kinds of materials are available and which ones are appropriate or mechanically suitable for the solution.” Although she’d never worked through this part of the design process before, she said she was prepared by her biomedical engineering coursework and “super willing to learn.”

Ross and her co-intern spent 6 weeks in Kenya working to modify three different prototypes they had prepared and brought with them to determine how to advance the project. The longer stay in Kenya offered a different experience with the depth of socially engaged design for Ross, she comments that she was able to create a personal life within the village where she lived, and these personal connections were key to her work there as well. She says that the development of the patient turning aid prototype included “a lot of interviewing and making friends with the welder on site” so he could help them modify prototypes.

Rachel working with Martin, a Consolata Hospital biomedical engineer, discussing the manufacturing and maintenance of the patient turning aid prototype.

Rachel will be moving to Minneapolis in the fall to work for Abbott, a global healthcare and research company, in the regulatory affairs department. This role will involve tailoring the manufacturing process to fit FDA regulations. Rachel says that although this is different than anything she’s done before, she’s looking forward to seeing “a very broad range of what it takes to make a medical device work.”