Computer Science & Engineering – UW Engineers Making a Difference

Computer Science & Engineering – UW Engineers Making a Difference


>>[Background music] Computer scientists
and computer engineers change the world by designing, building, and deploying innovative
solutions to real-world problems. Students design and build hardware and software systems,
develop effective ways to solve problems, and invent new and better ways to use computers
to address the challenges we face every day.>>Yaw: My name Yaw Anokwa. I’m a Ph.D. student
in computer science and engineering. From the time that I was a little kid, I’ve always
been interested in solving problems. I see computer science and engineering as a way
to take that drive to solve problems and formalize it. Engineering teaches you techniques and
approaches to problem solving that I find important in the work that I do every day. For a long time, computer science has been
working on problems that really only affect a small part of the population on this planet.
Technology is a fantastic tool, and it can really make a difference in the lives of many
people. After a couple of years in graduate school, I figured that we should try to apply
some of the technologies that we are working on here in the developed world and see if
we can solve some of the really big problems. I think when people imagine computer science
and engineering they imagine someone sitting in a lab soldering electronics or sitting
in a basement writing some code. For me, I haven’t had that experience. Computer science and engineering has taught
me a set of skills that can solve some of the world’s really big problems. In my case,
it’s global development, but for others, it may be climate change or energy. So computer
science and engineering really helps you solve these problems, and it also happens to be
fun, which is always a good thing. I do research in technology for developing
regions. My current project is called Open Data Kit, or ODK. Open Data Kit is really
great at making organizations more efficient. Most of our users are based in East Africa,
and so we’ve seen projects in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Central African Republic.
Outside of Africa, there’s deployments in Brazil, there’s deployments ongoing in the
U.S. as well. We’ve seen projects in India, so it’s used in a bunch of different places. Let me give you an example. You see a patient
in a rural hospital. You have to often fill out that patient’s information on a paper
form. By the time you take that paper form, get it manually entered into a medical records
system and get that information available when that patient visits again, that can take
months at a time. Some of the tools that we’ve worked on automates that process and allows
those workers to go out into the field, collect the data on a mobile phone, and send it instantly
to the clinic. This shortens the time from when you collect the data to when the data
is available for clinical care. You can tell, it’s a mud brick house, but the guy is holding
a cell phone. You know, he’s using that cell phone to check his messages. So even in the
rural environment, you can still get cell phone connectivity. It’s sometimes difficult to simply take a
piece of technology and introduce it into a new environment, especially in a developing
region. So we work very closely with our partners to make sure that when we deploy a new piece
of software or new tool, we work with them to both train their staff and train their
technical staff so the project sustains itself. This way, they don’t rely on us for long-term
support. They can change the tools to fit their particular work flows. Right now, we have two or three graduate students
working on the project, and we’ve had up to ten undergraduate students working on the
project. That’s been extremely rewarding because it really demonstrates that you don’t have
to have an advanced degree to really contribute to projects just like these. We’ve had students
from first years all the way to fourth years contribute, and not only write code, but see
that code released to the general public. And I think that’s really important to get
undergraduate students involved in research at this level. I came to realize that technology really has
a big role to play in solving some of the world’s biggest problems. The work we do tries
to empower local folks in developing countries to solve some of their information challenges
with technology. I’ve seen subsistence farmers in Rwanda and very sick patients in Kenya
really benefit from the software that I’ve written. That’s something you simply can’t
get in other fields. And I feel that, that kind of rewarding feeling that you get when
you realize the impact you’re having is the reason I continue to do this work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *