Engineering seniors work to improve the healthcare system while studying abroad in South Africa


Photo courtesy of Nora Chambers

Engineering students are working to improve the health care system in South Africa on their study abroad trip.

Ella Jeffries, Reporter

While students in Evanston are counting down the days until spring, 14 Northwestern seniors are spending their Winter Quarter in the sunny, 80-degree weather of Stellenbosch, South Africa. 

As part of a study abroad program with the McCormick School of Engineering, the students have spent the quarter working on their senior design projects focusing on global health technologies in South Africa.

The study abroad trip hasn’t happened in two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the students said South Africa’s COVID-19 regulations are very similar to Evanston’s and they are glad the COVID-19 status ended up being stable enough for them to study abroad. 

“An opportunity to go live in South Africa for three months was something super unique and I probably will never get again in my life,” McCormick senior Nora Chambers said. “So far it’s been a really positive experience and I’ve gotten to meet some really inspiring people.”

Throughout the quarter, students have worked on different projects concerning the health care system in South Africa, which Chambers said is overburdened and understaffed. She said she’s enjoyed having the opportunity to try implementing positive changes. 

McCormick senior Svayam Dialani’s project includes getting approval from the Food and Drug Administration and the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority for a new medical device created by South African engineers. 

“We are being integrated in the healthcare systems here,” Dialani said, “We’re working with real local clients who we meet with in hospitals and we get to do clinic visits and see what they’re working on and talk with other clinicians and doctors.” 

Although the projects have been rewarding, the students said the highlight of their experiences has been the adventures and excursions they participated in. 

The group had one week of classes at the University of Stellenbosch, the campus where they’re staying, leaving lots of time for exploring their surroundings. 

“We’ve gotten to do so much, every weekend we’re either going hiking in the beautiful mountains or going to the beach and surfing,” McCormick senior Sophia Levin said. “We’ve also done some wine tastings, and we go into Cape Town every weekend. 

The group has been posting on an Instagram page to keep their friends and families updated on their experiences. Chambers said the page is a few weeks behind because they’ve been busy, but it will soon be updated to capture their most recent activities like bungee jumping, snorkeling with seals and hugging elephants. 

Dialani said most of the group didn’t know each other prior to the trip, but after spending about 24 hours per day together, they have gotten close in a very short amount of time. 

“When you’re doing a bunch of new things together in a completely new environment, really pushing the boundaries of your comfort, it really gets easy to get comfortable with one another,” Dialani said. 

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