UT Professor and Professional Electrical Engineer Dr. Sandrine Ngalula Mubenga’s humanitarian work in the nonprofit sector was recently profiled by the BBC. The topic was her work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The STEM DRC Initiative was initially founded by Dr. Mubenga (Ph.D. PE) as a 501(c)3) nonprofit organization to provide STEM Scholarships to students in the DRC with the hope of improving electrification in her native country.
Over time, the work of the NGO has expanded to include the establishment of Centers of Excellence to provide shared laboratory space and support for new STEM DRC Initiative graduates and working STEM Professionals.
A Learning Experience in Industrial Product Design
More recently, the organization’s network and resources were mobilized by Dr. Mubenga to solve a looming health care crisis in the DRC that was created by the COVID-19 Pandemic. “With its more than 85 million inhabitants, the Democratic Republic of the Congo had only 200 ventilators at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, explains Dr. Sandrine Ngalula Mubenga (BBC Afrique 2020).” She went into action when realizing that thousands of lives could be lost due to the inability of the impoverished country to buy ventilators on the world stage. She also knew that the DRC lacked the infrastructure to manufacture the number of high tech medical devices that would be needed in-country.
That was when she challenged her students to be a part of the solution. The STEM DRC Initiative students worked with Dr. Mubenga’s colleagues, who include STEM Professionals from around the globe, to design a new kind of ventilator. The new invention was adapted from a design promulgated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). This ventilator is now under review in “pilot prototype stage” awaiting the approval needed to allow mass production. It will then be implemented across the nation.
Dr. Mubenga was excited about the possibility to save lives by innovating in her field. There are few new frontiers in electrical engineering because so many people have been working for so many years. Much of her previous electrical engineering work had been done in basic research in theoretical and academic circles. However, this opportunity allowed her to work in product design for manufacturing in the real world. While the learning experience was rewarding, and a lot of hard work, it also provided lessons in humility as well. She notes that “You really have to be humble to receive feedback and comments from colleagues in order to improve your project (ibid).”
Dr. Mubenga’s Passion for the DRC Comes Naturally
After she almost died due to lack of electricity in the DRC, as a young woman, she turned to her faith and said, “If I could get through it, I would get down to solving the electricity problem (ibid).” Her commitment to this goal led her to study in the United States to become an electrical engineer. She later graduated from the University of Toledo where she works on battery management technology and teaches as Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering Technology.
BBC Afrique, 2020, “Coronavirus in Congo: engineer Sandrine Ngalula Mubenga designs respirators” published by BBC Afrique on November 24, 2020 and retrieved online November 27, 2020 from https://www.bbc.com/afrique/region-55003007.amp