At Delft University of Technology, budding engineers, planners and designers who are looking to commit their talents to global sustainable development are considered an asset. Joint Interdisciplinary Projects (JIP) corresponding to the university’s Global Initiative give master students the opportunity to transcend both geographical and academic boundaries. Even in times of a pandemic.
TU Delft | Global Initiative brings together researchers and students from the various faculties working on potential solutions for low and middle income countries and links them to enterprises and end users in these countries. “Our goal is to create a community through which scientific research and education are given a very practical use, in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals”, says Sophie Oostelbos, Programme Developer at TU Delft | Global Initiative. “The JIP Global, which is a sub-programme within the larger JIP umbrella, is one of the means by which we accomplish this goal.” On the one hand students benefit from tackling issues that people working at grassroots level experience. “On top of their engineering skills they acquire all sorts of softer skills and learn to act in other cultural contexts.” On the other hand businesses and local communities profit from the influx of smart, innovative thinking from students and scientists. “Be it the development of adequate housing, basic healthcare or access to drinking water, our academic community is brimming with fresh ideas and relevant expertise. These just need a setting in which they can be applied.”
Jitin Gopakumar completed a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in India and moved to the Netherlands in August 2019 to obtain a Master of Science degree in Management of Technology at TU Delft’s Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management. The first lockdown, in 2020, changed the perspective on potential internships. “JIP Global seemed like an interesting alternative, so I enrolled in July 2020.” He was given a choice between six cases and had to motivate his choice. “It’s a thorough process. Teams are put together not merely on the basis of technical skills. Your background and interests are also taken into account in order to achieve a good match.”
Jitin got to work on the case he preferred, as provided by the Dutch company Delft Imaging. This social enterprise specialises in the screening of diseases that burden mainly healthcare systems in low and middle income countries, such as tuberculosis and more recently diabetes and COVID-19. Thus reducing inequality in healthcare provision. “We got involved in the TU Delft | Global Initiative three years ago”, says Business Unit Director Florent Geerts. “It made sense to match the university’s efforts in research and development of tech-based innovation with our focus on the marketing and implementation of it in mainly African and Asian countries.” Since then the company has been a regular sparring partner for students and start-ups working on the achievement of development goals.
Delft Imaging’s profile and case really appealed to Jitin. “Also, my mum was a nurse and my dad was employed in the medical sector, so I have an affinity with healthcare.” The other students that teamed up study medical technology and transport logistics. “Our different skills complemented each other very well. I’ve learnt a lot about medicine as well as stakeholder management.”
Jitin Gopakumar participated in the JIP Global Programme, talking with doctors in Ghana while working remotely in Delft
Based on its track record with detection of tuberculosis in resource-constrained settings and high-prevalence areas, Delft Imaging was keen to provide a similar solution at the start of the Covid 19-pandemic. Travel restrictions, however, made it hard if not impossible to provide installation and training on site. Jitin and his fellow students therefore set out to develop a remote training module for CAD4COVID, Delft Imaging’s screening method using x-rays and artificial intelligence. “The software can be used online as well as offline by means of a box the size of a chocolate bar.”
Through interviews Jitin’s team got to know the company and its clients and assessed the pros and cons of virtual implementation and training. “Talking to a number of doctors in Ghana helped us develop an interactive e-learning solution and a knowledge platform that meets requirements from a user perspective. The fact that after completion you’re a certified user also gives you an advantage in the competitive market in some African countries.” The team consulted different experts, such as university professor Hans Hellendoorn, a specialist in control engineering. “Our solution has to be scientifically viable of course.” By frequently being in touch with the JIP coordinator as well as company coach Florent at Delft Imaging, Jitin’s team was able to get access to people students wouldn’t otherwise get to consult. “Being able to discuss issues you face with senior academics as well as CEOs as it were on the job is extremely satisfying and inspiring. The experience has even helped me shape the outline of my master's thesis. It’s on localisation of medical device manufacturing and assembly in low and middle income countries.”
Florent is thoroughly pleased with the team’s efforts. The resulting e-learning tool has enabled the company to provide capacity building without actually having to be present on location. “It takes end users about 5 to 6 hours to get to the required level in order to start using the screening method anytime, anywhere. That makes it a really useful addition to our services and we are happy to implement and further develop it for other diseases such as tbc. It will certainly increase the impact of our screening methods.”
Delft Imaging developed a screening method called CAD4COVID, which can be used remotely as seen in above images in Mexico (l) and India (r)
On a personal level Jitin found learning to apply a so-called Harris profile very rewarding. This is a graphic representation of the strengths and weaknesses of a design concept. “The medical-tech students in the team use it frequently, but I’d never heard of it.” On his part, he contributed and got to further develop his project management skills. Likewise, all four students developed new software skills in order to make the learning experience interesting, by adding serious gaming aspects. “We acquired all kinds of abilities that we can apply in the future.” All in all he experienced the ten weeks of continuous work on the case as something like a pressure cooker, Jitin explains with a smile on his face. “Mind you, during the JIP kick-off days, we were instructed how to work efficiently and deal with stress. Considering all my extracurricular activities, I’ve certainly improved my time management skills.”
JIP Global is one of many Joint Interdisciplinary Projects organised by the university. Through these projects, which address subjects ranging from aerospace and robotics to the energy transition and circular economy, 150 to 200 students annually link up with partners from industry. “For JIP Global, which ran for the second year, we would have had interdisciplinary student teams travelling abroad to learn from and work with three companies as well as local stakeholders”, says TU Delft’s JIP program manager Birgit de Bruin. “But of course, due to the pandemic we had to adjust our plans.” As the JIP precedes the writing of a master thesis, it’s important that the projects meet specific learning goals and can be assessed accordingly. “This took some extra organising in close collaboration with our different faculties as well as with the coaches from our industrial partners. I’m glad we managed to provide a non-travel version which still gave the students the chance to address local challenges and extend their horizon and their skills doing so.” Meanwhile Birgit is looking forward to the next edition of JIP Global, among many other JIPS’ on offer in 2021. It will comprise five cases. “Our network is growing and more companies are eager to collaborate, which means that we’ll be able to offer cases in South East Asia as well as Africa.”
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Are you a TU Delft student and do you want to work on an interdisciplinary project in the Global South together with other students where you will make real impact? Click here to see the available upcoming projects and learn how to sign up!
Are you a company in the Global South and do you want valuable insights for your business case, connect with ambitious and talented students and gain access to staff and resources from the TU Delft? Participate in the JIP Global Programme and deliver a study case for students to work on! Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.