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Finding a Life-Changing Purpose for Her Engineering Education


Recent Robert Morris University graduate Sarah Robb was awarded a $100,000 fellowship through the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

The award will enable Sarah to enter Carnegie Mellon University’s Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. program this fall, where she will focus on the medical applications of single-walled carbon nanotubes. It will also help to fund travel to various conferences, where she’ll have the opportunity to network, present her research, and become more involved with professional engineering societies.

“It’s pretty exciting,” says Sarah, who recently completed RMU’s integrated B.S. in Engineering/M.S. in Engineering Management program. “I am so happy and grateful for all the knowledge and opportunities RMU has provided me.”

This past year Sarah collaborated with other members or RMU’s Engineering World Health (EWH) chapter (which she helped to organize) in order to design and build a low-cost, non-battery-powered otoscope that could be used in environments where electricity or batteries are unavailable. The idea for the otoscope was spawned after her trips to Nicaragua with Dr. Carl Ross’s nursing students.

The RMU EWH's otoscope prototype

The RMU EWH’s otoscope prototype

“RMU engineering has great resources for students – CAD modeling programs, 3D imaging scanners and cameras, 3D printers, robots, rapid prototyping devices – ” she says, “so it was kind of my dream to see our students using their knowledge and the resources we have here to help out the nursing program, which benefits so many needy people in the Managua barrios.”

Sarah and the RMU EWH chapter decided to build the otoscope after surveying and gathering input from Dr. Ross and nursing students over a two-year period. The data they gathered from the survey will also allow the chapter to design and manufacture other projects for the future, based on the needs identified by the traveling nursing students.

Sarah first traveled to Nicaragua with RMU’s nursing program in the spring of 2013. This past March, thanks to her receiving the 20-Year Club scholarship and support from the American Association of University Women, Pittsburgh Chapter, she was able to the impoverished country along with Dr. Ross and his students.

“The first trip opened my eyes to how easy it was to make a positive difference in someone else’s life,” she says. “People shouldn’t be dying for things we throw away in more developed countries. This trip fueled my excitement to get involved and make a difference.”

Sarah is set to begin her studies at CMU this fall. In the meantime she’s working as an intern at Mine Safety Appliances in Cranberry, where she has gotten the chance to speak to schools about engineering through the company’s outreach program. “Eventually I’d love to teach engineering classes and continue to share my engineering knowledge and experiences with others.” ~

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