After traveling to Uganda three times during her four years at Tufts, where she worked to increase local access to clean water with Engineers Without Borders (EWB), Misaki Nozawa’s career and life plans have been forever altered.
Though she majored in biomedical engineering (BME), Nozawa is considering attending graduate school for a degree in mechanical engineering to further her involvement in development work.
Nozawa got involved in the Tufts chapter of EWB her freshman year, the first year of the Uganda program. Her involvement with the program progressed from participant her first year to group leader her second year to project leader and co-president of the group this year.
The group aimed to provide clean water sources for a village called Shilongo. Its initial project was a stationary bicycle system that would serve as a water pump for the community. The project ultimately failed, due to miscommunication of cultural taboos, forcing the group to rethink their strategy.
“While we were building [the bicycle] they were constantly hysterically laughing. We asked a translator to help us out, and we figured out they were laughing because of this cultural taboo. They want our help and are afraid that if they give any negative feedback … we’ll leave. We’re in that point in the relationship now, though, where they know we won’t leave them.”
Nozawa feels communications have improved since her first trip to Shilongo.
“I’ve started to learn the local language, Lugisu, a little bit to hold small conversations,” Nozawa said.
EWB is now focusing on the benefits that motorized storage tanks can offer the community.
“Currently, they are working with a well, and we want to have a storage tank so that [they] don’t have to wait to get water,” she said. “We’re trying to replace [the bicycle] system with a motor that runs on electricity so they just have to turn it on.”
According to Nozawa, the group members on a trip this January checked on parts and talked with community leaders about the next steps of implementation. Next January, the group will make a trip again – but for the first time in four years, Nozawa won’t be on it.
“EWB was a life-changing activity – that’s my favorite thing I did here at Tufts,” she said.
Nowaza also had an impact at Diagnostics for All, a company that produces rapid point-of-care diagnostic tests for developing countries.
“Whenever you go to the doctor and you need to get tested for something, it requires this extensive technology that developing countries don’t have access to,” she said. “I was developing a device to detect whether newborn babies and the expecting mother were anemic or not.”
Nozawa focused her senior design project on silk needles and the Hepatitis B vaccine after learning about the technology in one of her favorite courses, Principles of Controlled Release and Drug Delivery.
“Silk has been proven to be a good bio-material that helps vaccines stay potent over a long period of time that usually require refrigeration. If the vaccine is embedded into silk, you can leave it in the blazing hot sun for six months and it would still be active,” she explained.
“A lot of the jobs in international development require a more general engineering degree,” she said. “BME is very specific, very developed, where you’re using millions of dollars of high-tech equipment. But if I want to pursue what I want to pursue I will need a different background.”
Nozawa’s advice for current undergraduate Tufts students is to start networking now.
“Go to talks, go to events that seem interesting to you,” Nozawa said. “There are so many different lectures that go on. You can go listen to them, introduce yourself, jot down names and look them up later. It’s really helpful.”