Work is Fun: Design and Cultural Exchange

This week was all about design. In last week’s blog, I mentioned that design was one of two foci of GMI that I wanted to practice. This week, we took a short course in which we designed a medical device. I learned so much and it was great fun!

Pedi-Asthma Team, including Annie, middle, and me, second from left, with our Costa Rican teammates

To start, we met Costa Rican students of varying engineering and design backgrounds and formed teams of five focusing on different medical needs. My group tackled the issue of pediatric asthma diagnosis. Using lectures and activity sessions, the course stepped us through the phases of forming design criteria, brainstorming, narrowing down ideas, prototyping, and finalizing a design that we could present. Lectures also gave us important and helpful information about giving PowerPoint presentations, manufacturing and IP considerations, and other topics. In the picture are my group members with our prototype.

As a chemical engineering undergrad, I learned about design in different terms than these. Boy, am I glad for this week’s experience to practice before we start on our design projects starting in the fall! From hearing what our professors taught and from talking with my Costa Rican colleagues, here are some of my key takeaways about design from the week.

  • Learning to design is iterative
  • Design itself is an iterative process
  • Processes for overall and individual design steps can help logic and efficiency
  • Design requires both technical and user-focused attention
  • Improvement comes by jumping in and doing the work. For this reason, adjusting and changing plans is natural and necessary.
  • Defensible decisions are required and help with the adjusting mentioned above

The design experience also revealed some aspects of design I can work on in the future:

  • Making hard decisions in a timely way
  • Trusting the process of narrowing down ideas
  • Planning on design changes in the future of the project

Another way this week was fun was that I got to get to know some Costa Rican students who have some neat academic interests and side projects. I had an ongoing conversation with one student from Invenio University (which we visited last week) about biodegradability of polymers. As part of our discussion, he told me about a project he’s involved with to reuse plastic, since even recyclable plastic is rarely actually melted down and repurposed. His group, Precious Plastic (, has developed machines to crush and reform plastic into nearly anything, and they’re continuing expansion worldwide, next targeting the Netherlands. A common theme of our conversation was checking what we learn from textbooks or professors with the actual case, whether it be the biodegradable capacity of bio-sourced polymers or the steps required to re-form plastic. I love learning by exchanging experiences in this way!

My latest outdoor adventure was to Manuel Antonio National Park. There were beaches and hiking trails, sun and rain, sand and more sand, cool animals, and lots of exclamations of “Wow, that’s so beautiful!” Recharged from the weekend in nature, I’m looking forward to starting at Boston Scientific this week.

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