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BW faculty, students travel to Guatemala to bring tech to medical records system

An ongoing partnership focused on humanity and healthcare came to fruition as BW professors and students traveled to Guatemala in May to install a custom-designed medical records system in a clinic that assists rural Mayans.

photo of BW visits Guatemala-May 2023

The four-year medical records project, under the direction of the computer science department, is an extension of Baldwin Wallace's partnership with Mission Guatemala. Funding for the collaborative enterprise came, in part, from a $35,000 IDEAS (Increase and Diversify Education Abroad for U.S. Students) Grant awarded to BW by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Transformative learning experience

photo of BW visits Guatemala-May 2023

Preliminary work began in fall 2019 with a year-long senior capstone project for software engineering majors. New groups of students were brought into the endeavor in subsequent years. In May, nine students traveled to Panajachel to deliver the medical records software and train the medical staff on its use. In addition, they helped transfer the old, paper-based records to the new system.

Accompanying them on the 10-day trip were computer science professors Dr. Rachelle Hippler, coordinator of the software engineering major, and Ken Atchinson, who oversees the cybersecurity analyst program.

Among students traveling abroad was Samantha Coats' 23, a software engineering major from Cleveland who will be graduating this summer. "I benefitted personally and professionally. I gained the experience of planning and working with others in a diverse environment as well as learned about other cultures and geographic locations," she noted.

Joining her on the trip was Sonny Smith '24 of Parma, Ohio. A computer science and economics major, Smith believes the international experience is invaluable to his career preparation.

"Opportunities like this one enrich my learning at BW by giving me a unique experience that feels more personal and engaging," said Smith. "This project fits into my career plans because it gives me experience with implementing technological solutions and teaching end-users how to use those solutions."

Rewarding leadership opportunity

Carrie Eierman poster presentation

Not all students involved in the multi-year project traveled abroad. Carrie Eierman '23 of Chardon, Ohio, was a member of the software development team. Her involvement in the endeavor began in her junior year as part of a software engineering class.

"During that time, I expanded upon my coding knowledge, learned about the project and met our client," she explained. "As junior year came to a close, my classmates and I were transferred to the reins. Three other software engineering seniors and I worked together to develop, test and implement a bilingual desktop application that can store and report on patient records.

"Faculty-student collaboration opportunities like this one enriched my learning at BW by providing hands-on learning experience I would not have gained at other institutions. I feel I worked on something meaningful, expanded my network and gained new skills every day," emphasized Eierman, who is a newly minted alumna of BW.

Uniting BW with a global community

Hippler believes the service-learning project is a win-win for Mission Guatemala and BW alike. Mission Guatemala received four laptops with software customized for their needs. In addition, the BW group provided training on use of the software as well as other applications. They also held computer science workshops for three groups of Mayan students attending schools nearby the clinic.

BW students were able to hone their technical and problem-solving skills through a real-world experience that provides a lens into another country and culture. Closer to campus, they gain invaluable leadership, communication and teamwork skills through peer interactions.

"This project morphed into a wonderful mentoring program between juniors and seniors," said Hippler. "For seniors, they can observe how their skills have progressed since the prior year and benefit from seeing their own competence as project managers and leaders," remarked Hippler. "The juniors appreciate the work the seniors put into the onboarding transition process and like having mentors they can go to for assistance."

According to Hippler, the Mission Guatamala partnership is ongoing. "We have the responsibility to maintain the software and add new features as needed," she explained. "But equally important is the opportunity for our students to feel connected to others globally and to gain a cultural appreciation for Guatemala and its indigenous people.

"Developing and maintaining a software infrastructure in a medical clinic 3,165 miles away is reflective of the BW mission to be a contributing member of a global society. The work our students have done individually and through teams is truly amazing and a pride point for them and for BW," she emphasized.

software engineering students working on a project

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