January 12, 2017 | ,

WANTED: idealistic students to save millions of lives

A summer fellowship immerses STEM students in global health problem-solving.
David Shoultz talks to two Siemens fellows in a lab.
Siemens Foundation-PATH Fellows channel their curiosity into solutions to some of the world’s biggest health challenges. Pictured here are fellows Scott Khuu and Henon Gebre (L and R) with David Shoultz, who leads the Drug Development program at PATH. Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.

Conventional wisdom about STEM education in the United States goes something like this: we need to do a better job teaching our students math and science so they can fill a mind-boggling number of high-paying jobs in the tech sector, which are fueling our economy.

That’s certainly part of the story.

But if we view STEM education (which stands for science, technology, engineering, and math) primarily as a fast track to a comfortable, high-paying job, we’re selling our students short—because STEM education can also lead to a career that serves humanity’s highest needs.

If we stoke their idealism along with their academic passions, today’s STEM students will lead us toward a world where preventable illnesses no longer threaten the lives of children, all women have the power to protect their health and their families, and every community has the health solutions it needs to thrive.

The biggest problems need the brightest minds

It takes imagination and audacity to take on the world’s toughest problems. It also takes discipline and rigor—the hallmarks of STEM education. As the world gets more complex and interconnected, we need the brightest minds on the biggest problems in global health.

That’s why our organizations teamed up last year to create the Siemens Foundation-PATH Fellowship, a summer program that pairs promising undergraduate and graduate students in STEM fields with scientists at PATH and mentors from Siemens Healthineers, the global technology company’s health care business.

Our goal was to expose students to specialized fields—such as diagnostics development—where business interests intersect with global health needs, fueling rich cross-sector partnerships that accelerate innovation.

What a fellowship looks like

Last summer, our first six fellows worked in PATH’s diagnostics laboratory on important projects—they looked for new ways to test the integrity of dried blood samples, worked on new diagnostic tests for malaria and intestinal parasites, and studied how access to diagnostics encourages healthy behavior. At the end of the summer, the fellows presented their research to their Siemens mentors at the company’s health care diagnostics facility in Tarrytown, New York.

A group of young men and women gather for a selfie as Steve Davis and David Etzwiler stand in the background.
Our first class of fellows (pictured here) came from universities across the United States to work in PATH’s diagnostics laboratory. (That’s us in the background!) This year, the program is also open to technical and community college students. Photo: PATH.

These pioneering fellows told us that having mentors at both PATH and Siemens gave them a unique and nuanced perspective of potential career tracks, plus insight into the ways different sectors approach seemingly intractable problems to create change on a global scale.

Many paths to a healthier world

Diagnostics is just one career path for STEM students who care about health equity. The global health workforce of the future desperately needs computer scientists to focus on data visualization and digital health solutions; engineers to dream up devices that work in low-resource settings; social scientists to re-think health systems; and statisticians and mathematicians to evaluate the impact of health innovations.

In this quickly changing world, who knows what skills and tools will help us push the boundaries of innovation in the future? We know this: we need smart young people to lead the way.

The search for our second cohort of Siemens Foundation-PATH Fellows is under way. This summer, four fellows will work in our diagnostics laboratory and two in our product development shop (this track is open to community and technical college students). Find details and learn how to apply.

Watch the fellows at work and find out what inspires them about the future of global health. Video: PATH.

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