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Design That Matters: Connecting Engineering Students With Underserved Communities

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Design for Community

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.386.1 - 9.386.6



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Paper Authors

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Timothy Prestero

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Neil Cantor

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2625

Design that Matters: Connecting Engineering Students with Underserved Communities Timothy Prestero, Neil Cantor Design that Matters

1. Introduction

In this paper, we give an overview of the collaborative design process that we have built to address unmet needs in underserved communities while at the same time educating engineering students about their capacity to create positive social change. The process description is motivated by a specific example—the design of a tool for adult literacy education in developing countries. We give an overview of some initial program results from the academic perspective. Finally, we outline our approach towards the further development of this service.

2. An Overview of Design that Matters

Design that Matters (DtM), a nonprofit organization hosted at MIT, helps underserved communities realize an improved quality of life by creating products and services that meet needs identified by the communities themselves. DtM acts as bridge to bring problems identified by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the communities into the classroom for university engineering students to tackle in their capstone design courses. DtM serves as the “institutional memory”, capturing the ideas resulting from each capstone course to allow successive teams of students to build on each other’s work. Finally, DtM works with NGOs, corporate partners and local entrepreneurs to ensure that promising student innovations result in products and services for communities in need.

Since its launch in 2000, DtM has reached over 400 engineering students—roughly half of them women and minorities, and many of whom have realigned their life trajectories to include work in underserved communities. In 2002, DtM completed a proof-of-concept implementation in MIT's mechanical engineering capstone design course with Prof. Woodie Flowers. DtM is now expanding within MIT and to other schools in the US and UK.

2.1. DtM Project Areas

Design that Matters works to address the needs of underserved communities in developing countries as well as indigenous groups, the disabled and the elderly. DtM student teams have tackled such challenges as an improved IV drip for cholera treatment1, a non-electric incubator for premature infants in rural areas2, a children's talking toy for Native American language preservation, "smart canes" for the blind, hand-powered electricity generation for rural computing and communication tools for handicapped children. Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Prestero, T., & Cantor, N. (2004, June), Design That Matters: Connecting Engineering Students With Underserved Communities Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--12885

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