Karishma Popli, a junior, recently joined 160 other Duke graduate and undergraduate students in the Duke Ebola Innovation Challenge. Hosted by the Fuqua School of Business, the event prompted small groups of students to develop an idea that would help improve care for Ebola patients, enhance the capabilities of healthcare workers, and prevent the disease from spreading further. Duke will submit some of the best ideas—as determined by a panel of judges—to USAID's national call to action. The Chronicle's Kali Shulklapper conducted an interview with Popli on her experience with the Challenge and her goals for the future.

The Chronicle: Why did you decide to get involved with the challenge?

Karishma Popli: I’ve always been very interested in different global health issues— especially wide scale epidemics like Ebola because they have the potential to affect so many more in the future—unless we develop preventative measures and hopefully find a cure. I thought this challenge would be a great way to learn about the issue but also develop an innovative idea. It was also to hear more from students and faculty in this realm and collaborate with these different people from different backgrounds to help solve this wide-scale problem.

TC: Can you explain a bit about your own background and its relation to this project?

KP: I’m currently a junior and a double major in neuroscience and global health with a certificate in innovation and entrepreneurship. I’ve always been committed to empowering students to affect change by developing innovative global health solutions and a part of that has been that I’m the co-president of the Duke chapter of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, which is an international organization that promotes access and innovation to essential medicines by mobilizing students to expand university contributions and commitments to innovative, accessible global health research. I also serve on the Student Advisory Council of the Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator at Duke, which organized the Ebola Challenge event in response to the Grand Challenge posed by USAID.

TC: You mentioned that there were many different backgrounds and different perspectives present during the challenge. What was your experience like in terms of interacting and learning from these other backgrounds and perspectives?

KP: That was made it such a unique experience because we had students of all different backgrounds -- our team was really interdisciplinary and diverse which allowed us to think really creatively. We had global health students, undergrads with science backgrounds, engineering students, from the Pratt School, Trinity, the nursing school, and the business school as well.

I think that just helped us be able to think more creatively because we all brought different skills to the table and—especially during the brainstorm sessions when we were originally coming up with ideas—I thought we actually had some pretty great ideas that didn’t get submitted, which was just a result of a lot of different backgrounds.

It was definitely very influencing to hear from people from different backgrounds because talking about the way they approach problems is very different and I think that really helped. If I didn’t see one side of an issue, they saw something else—and it was great to have that back and forth and kind of holistically solve the problems. The challenging part was to find a time to work because there was only a week to submit the innovation and everyone has such busy schedules and from different schools so matching up a time to meet was challenging. But in the end we all made it work because we were dedicated to the cause, even though some people had to call into the meetings. It was a very rewarding experience.

TC: Describe the innovation ideas you presented? How do they work?

KP: Our innovation was called a mobile protective equipment tracker. It was using mobile technology for health workers to report their PPE or personal protective equipment and to document notes on a daily basis. One of the parts of this challenge was that they had workshops where they brought in speakers who work with these issues in the field. One of the people who came to speak developed a nonprofit which is a mobile platform that allows health workers to learn about Ebola and get updates about Ebola on their cell phones. One of the main things he said is that everyone is this area has a cell phone—so leveraging that technology was what we did to make sure we could monitor and detect PPE for these workers because they’re the most likely to become infected by Ebola by coming into contact with these patients and their bodily fluids. So we wanted to track where improper training was occurring or where there was a shortage of supplies so we could correct these issues quickly and efficiently and prevent the spread of Ebola and make sure everyone took proper precautions.

TC: What direction do you see your innovation/ideas going in the future? How do you plan to apply them or put them into action? What are the next steps?

KP: We would obviously like to continue with this, but I’m not sure if this idea will be able to be applied in the future. We are exploring the opportunity to expand some of our earlier brainstorming ideas we found interesting and unique, but we are thinking about talking to the speaker and adding our innovation onto the platform they already have. The next step for me personally is to continue learning as much as I can about the topics in the field and coming up with new innovative ideas that can help solve these global health issues.