Close search

BW wins federal IDEAS grant to support study abroad initiative

While the COVID-19 pandemic presents unique challenges to study abroad, Baldwin Wallace University is one of just 24 colleges nationwide chosen from 115 applicants to receive U.S. Department of State support to innovate and expand international experiences.

The State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs has announced that BW will receive a $35,000 IDEAS (Increase and Diversify Education Abroad for U.S. Students) Grant under its Capacity Building Program.

Engineering a medical records solution

BW's winning grant proposal is a multi-year partnership to support Mission Guatemala's medical clinic, which serves Mayan people in a remote part of the country.The winning BW proposal, "Diversifying Study Abroad through Technology and Public Health in Guatemala," actually began in the fall of 2019 with a year-long senior capstone project for Dr. Rachelle Kristof Hippler's software engineering students.

Envisioned as a long-term service-learning partnership between BW's computer science department and Mission Guatemala, the goal is to enhance the nonprofit's delivery of medical care to more than 4,000 rural Mayan patients.

Rising to the challenges

For phase one of the international partnership, senior software engineering majors worked with staff from Mission Guatemala via video distance platforms to create a custom medical records system to reIn the 2019-20 academic year, students worked with staff from Mission Guatemala via video distance platforms to create a custom medical records system, a worthy challenge for the seniors.

"The most difficult part of engineering a solution for this project was adapting a system we've never personally interacted with to a language, culture and organization we've never dealt with," explains Noah Justham '20.

The young programmers overcame those hurdles and produced a platform that is now ready for testing in the next phase of the multi-year project.

Virtual cross-cultural exchange

Because phase one of the project was entirely via long-distance collaboration, the senior capstone wrapped up without missing a beat when COVID-19 pushed all BW courses online and limited international travel this spring.

Even via remote technology, the cross-cultural exchange resulted in the kind of personal growth that is a hallmark of study abroad experiences.

"We had to take what info we found in our research and conceptualizations of the system and make it work for an organization in a distant country that doesn't speak English," says Justham. "We rose to the occasion with thorough research, brainstorming and frequent client meetings."

Future opportunities for many BW majors

Mission Guatemala logoWith the IDEAS grant support, a new group of students will pick up the next phase of the project in the coming year, "perhaps to implement a pharmacy inventory system for the clinic," says Hippler. "We expect this socially relevant, international program to be especially attractive to students from public health, nursing, education, international studies and Spanish."

New student opportunities for experiential learning will be offered in each subsequent year of the planned partnership, which also packs a powerful, positive punch in Guatemala.

"The impact of digital medical records is immeasurable when we consider the potential for improved health care for the Mayan people that the clinic serves," Hippler adds.

Plans for boots on the ground

As components of the software are built and pandemic travel restrictions allow, faculty from the computer science department also plan to lead study abroad programs in visits to Guatemala to deliver the components to the medical clinic.

For now, BW students from all majors are invited to apply for the program to help provide training, documentation and data entry support for the medical records system.

"We are committed to continuing our support for U.S. colleges and universities as they build their study abroad capacity now, in anticipation of a strong return to U.S. student mobility in the future," said Marie Royce, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

"When American students study abroad, they support critical U.S. foreign policy goals by building relationships with foreign peers, sharing American culture and values, and developing valuable career skills," Royce added when announcing the grant awards this month.

BW innovation in international education

The IDEAS grant is a tremendous honor for a BW study abroad program that has been innovating for years.

"We have partnerships around the world that connect students both virtually and physically," says Kristen Catrina, BW study abroad advisor. "For example, our award-winning collaborations with organizations in Zambia, especially through our speech-language pathology master's degree program, have made a profound difference for our students as well as the delivery of speech services in that country."

The Zambia program was an early adopter of blending distance virtual connections with overseas visits.

Media Contact

More News

BW wins two national awards for opera productions

BW faculty-student research shows dramatic changes in NE Ohio forests

BW students prevail at US Department of Energy CyberForce Competition