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Interns Work To Assist Tanzanian Communities
August 31, 2009

Six Carnegie Mellon students and recent alumni spent the summer working on a unique internship that took many of them all the way to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

As the first participants in iSTEP — innovative Student Technology ExPerience — five interns journeyed to Tanzania, while one supported the team from Pittsburgh. The team conducted technology-based research projects to help developing communities and laid important groundwork for future research.

“Seldom does one get an internship experience that allows students to conduct research and find their own solutions to problems that positively impact developing communities in the world,” said Rotimi Abimbola (HS ’09), who called the experience enlightening and powerful.

“The iSTEP 2009 internship has shown me the importance of people and communities,” said Hatem Alismail, a 2009 computer science graduate of Carnegie Mellon in Qatar. “Regardless of how wonderful and powerful a technological solution is, community involvement is the most important.”

Launched by Carnegie Mellon’s TechBridgeWorld research group, iSTEP provides the interns with the opportunity to add real-world research experience to their resumes.

“TechBridgeWorld’s iSTEP program redefines what an internship should be,” Alismail said. “The unique and novel projects present interesting challenges that require innovation, flexibility and adaptability to unexpected situations.”

This summer, the interns used the knowledge and skills they acquired in the classroom to creatively solve problems in an unfamiliar setting. During a podcast interview, a couple of the interns described the resource challenges that some communities in Tanzania face. For example, one school had holes in the walls and lacked electricity. But Beatrice Dias, a Ph.D. student in Engineering & Public Policy, described the teachers as being upbeat and excited about the interns’ projects because the teachers were involved in creating the technology.

“Rather than going in and donating a computer, we work closely with the partners on the ground so that we have a buy-in and they have ownership of the solution,” Dias said.

Working closely with local partners in the communities, the team of interns contributed their technical expertise to invent new tools and customize existing technology. Their three projects and solutions include creating a mobile phone-based literacy game for students at the Mlimani Primary School; working with the Institute of Social Work and the Department of Social Welfare to develop an information exchange protocol for social workers to report and receive information about AIDS orphans and vulnerable children using SMS on mobile phones; and enhancing and evaluating a low-cost Braille Writing Tutor with teachers and visually-impaired students at the Uhuru Mchanganyiko Primary School.

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