Unveiling their inaugural symposium, the student group Engineering World Health (EWH) hopes to inspire undergraduates, graduates, and postdocs of all academic backgrounds who are interested in global health to explore how their interests and expertise will shape engineering solutions to global health challenges.

The daylong event, to be held on March 30, is scheduled to feature expert talks, panel discussions, and a poster presentation in addition to networking opportunities.

The co-presidents of the U of T based EWH, Nimalan Thavandiran and Shreya Shukla — both PhD candidates at the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering (IBBME) — were motivated by the need to leverage their skills as engineers to improve global health.

Since last summer, the team has launched a series of initiatives including documentary screenings of health challenges in low-income communities, workshops to obtain hands-on experience in designing simple circuits, and mentoring a group of fourth-year undergraduates in designing a novel vaccine carrier.

“What’s becoming more and more clear, especially in the global health arena, is that these days, without an interdisciplinary team you are unlikely to succeed in trying to solve some of these complex challenges, because there will always be something that your bubble of expertise is just not sufficient to resolve,” Thavandiran says. “So, you need to really integrate multiple ways of thinking, and what simpler way to do that than have the people who are experts in these respective areas working together in a team,” he adds.

To this end, the symposium is aiming to attract a diverse audience, providing a unique opportunity to learn about exciting global health topics and network closely with leaders in the field.

The speakers of the day will include Dr. Yu-Ling Cheng, the Director of the Centre for Global Engineering, Dr. Alex Jadad, the Founder of the Centre for Global eHealth Innovation and Interim Director for the Institute for Global Health Equity and Innovation at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, and Dr. David McMillen, Associate Professor of the Department of Chemical and Physical Sciences, among others.

In addition, panellists including scientists, government, and industry representatives will aim to engage the audience in more related topics in two rounds of discussions. Off-stage, networking receptions will provide more space and time for participants to mix and mingle.

The team also hopes the exposure provided by the symposium will eventually lead some attendees to consider Global Health as a potential career path.

“We want to encourage the undergraduates who are early in their career to get involved in global health and start thinking about developing certain skill sets in their undergraduate time,” Thavandiran says, adding, “A lot of graduate students I have met through EWH whose work has not been related to global health are now considering global health as a career option.”

“We may think that graduate students have already honed in and locked down on their career path, but in fact in my opinion, a lot of them decide to reconsider later because they want to make a different kind of impact,” Thavandiran continues, adding, “Global health might fit the bill and we hope our symposium will shed light on making that decision.”