AWARD YEAR: 2019
DUKE - IGNITE
DIRECTOR: NIRMALA RAMANUJAM - NIMMI@DUKE.EDU
DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR GLOBAL WOMEN’S HEALTH TECHNOLOGY
PROJECT TITLE: IGNITE
The Ignite project, which began as an educational initiative that began in Dr. Ramanujam’s Global Women’s Health Technologies (GHWT) Center at Duke University, strives to democratize project-based STEM learning in public schools and after school programs in the Durham, North Carolina community. These educational initiatives stemmed from a realization that innovative, technology-based design thinking is often limited to classrooms at elite private schools and universities. Ironically, however many of the most pressing design challenges exist in communities where access to these skills sets is limited and not part of the educational curriculum. Thus, a novel curriculum was created to use engineering principles coupled with human-centered design to allow girls and women in low resource communities to create solutions to community challenges that they faced, energy poverty. The curriculum was created by Duke students under the guidance of Dr. Ramanujam and then piloted by them in several international communities in three countries including Kenya, India, and Guatemala. Over 100 students (predominantly female between the ages of 14-24) were taught how to build a rechargeable flashlight that could be fashioned within a water bottle or other readily available material into a solution for lack of access to lighting at night. After several iterations of teaching this curriculum in international programs, it became apparent that using hands-on, designfocused education had the ability to inspire confidence and promote self-agency in girls and young women.
Our mission is to make positive and sustainable social impact by helping students, especially girls, see themselves as creators and inventors who can have meaningful impact in their own communities through the sharing of knowledge. The approach uses a community-relevant problem to create the challenge for the design process, the engineering concepts that provide the foundation for executing of the design solution to address a specific problem, and a sustainable framework that creates a virtuous cycle of leaders and learners that perpetuates this educational model and critical thinking mindset well beyond the initial instruction.
The program has now expanded to domestic communities, particularly in Durham, N.C., and promotes active mentorship, catalyzes collaboration, and enhances global awareness and citizenship among students largely underrepresented in STEM fields. While students still begin by creating flashlights, the curricula now include many more hands-on STEM projects that allow students to translate their skills and creatively engage with new materials and ideas.