From 2004 to 2016, TechBridgeWorld developed technologies with a global heart and touched the lives of many people around the world. Read about their experiences with our research group below.
Students and Alumni
I heard about TechBridgeWorld’s assistive technology work during my penultimate semester at Carnegie Mellon University and was introduced to Professor M. Bernardine Dias by my advisor, Aaron Steinfeld. Growing up in a developing nation I was very much inspired by TechBridgeWorld’s efforts to make technology accessible to underserved communities across the globe. This encouraged me to apply to their iSTEP internship program, which was partnering with the Mathru Educational Trust for the Blind in Bangalore, India that year.
I was accepted into the program and we started our preparation for the internship during the Spring semester. This gave me the opportunity to share the work on the Stand-Alone Braille Writing Tutor (SABT) at a small talk at IBM Research Tokyo when I attended a conference there. My work for the summer was focused on the SABT which is an embedded device that aids students to learn and practice writing braille. The device had an Atmel microcontroller interfaced with six buttons to represent a braille cell and speakers to provide feedback. We developed modules on the device to help the students learn alphabets and arithmetic in braille and fun games to learn animal sounds. The challenging part was to understand the user’s perspective to design technology solutions that best suit their needs. It was such a fulfilling experience as we observed the teachers use the SABT in class.
~Poornima Kaniarasu, Uber
In my second year of graduate school in the Interaction Design program at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design, I noticed a poster for TechBridgeWorld’s iSTEP internship program outside of my studio. I was looking for an internship that focused on underserved communities and iSTEP seemed perfect for me so I applied to the program.
I had the amazing opportunity of being part of an 8-member multidisciplinary team that worked closely with Mathru Educational Trust for the Blind in Bangalore, India. I was given the responsibility of leading the team’s needs assessment efforts. Our main tasks were to test TechBridgeWorld’s Stand-Alone Braille Writing Tutor at Mathru’s School for the Blind, as well as assess the school’s experience using the Braille Writing Tutor, which TechBridgeWorld had previously deployed. The Needs Assessment team was also entrusted with understanding the needs of Mathru’s new Center for students with hearing impairments and multiple disabilities. We also picked up small projects like updating Mathru’s website, marketing for iSTEP and Mathru, training teachers, etc.
I learnt a lot about working in an agile environment and about conducting usability research with younger children with disabilities. I’m extremely thankful for the immersive experience that iSTEP provided me with. It has opened my eyes to the lack of usable technology for people with disabilities around the world.
~ Shree Lakshmi Rao, Microsoft Research
As an undergraduate student studying Computer Science and International Relations, I was interested in an opportunity to combine the two fields. I had heard of some of the great work TechBridgeWorld had done and wanted to get involved. As part of my Senior Honors Research Thesis advised by TechBridgeWorld’s Founder and Director Dr. M. Bernardine Dias, I worked on TechCaFE, which provided educators with simple and customizable tools to make learning fun for students.
As I worked on my thesis, I was able to learn more about motivation in education and games, while gaining research and technical experience. I really enjoyed seeing the game customization framework in use, as we tested a game developed through the framework with students at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. It was a wonderful experience overall, and I’m glad I was able to learn so much while working on something with the potential to improve users’ quality of life.
The skills and knowledge I gained during my time with TechBridgeWorld have helped me throughout my career so far, and I’m very grateful for the opportunities TechBridgeWorld gave me.
~ Jonathan Harbuck, Google
I have had some very memorable and meaningful experiences working with TechBridgeWorld. My involvement has helped me utilize my skills in a real world setting, develop key relationships, improve my communication skills, and develop new interests that have influenced my career choices. I developed a keen interest in understanding the users, global development, and more generally, interdisciplinary sciences; all of which led me to pursue a masters in Information at the University of Michigan, focusing on Human Computer Interaction and ICTD.
The opportunity to travel to different cultures, and interact with various user groups (ranging from primary school students to visually impaired individuals to high school girls to immigrant adults) is an enriching experience, and as an added bonus, serve as awesome conversation snippets – especially for interviews!
~ Aysha Siddique
I learned that to be successful, you have to be willing – willing to work the extra hours; willing to build life-long, true and honest relationships; willing to have heart-felt conversations with people from the driver to the highest ranked person in our partner organization; and willing to become more than what you thought you could be.
~ Brian Manalastas
When I applied to TechBridgeWorld’s iSTEP internship program, I was looking for an experience that would be hands-on, provide an opportunity to learn about a new location and new communities, and that would help me to develop a stronger understanding of international development work. At its close, this internship has been all these things and more, and I am very thankful that I had the opportunity to be a member of the team.
~ Jennifer Horwitz, Women’s Way
I wanted to do something that would affect real people. Given my experience in education, technology, and international development, TechBridgeWorld’s iSTEP internship program gave me the perfect opportunity to do research and build something that would impact people’s lives.
~ Jonathan Muller, Jazz.co
Not many internships allow their participants to see how people interact with their work on the same level as TechBridgeWorld’s iSTEP internship program. It completely changes the purpose of your work, to know whom you are developing for and it helps you to understand why your work is valuable.
~ Anthony Velázquez, Lyft
The iSTEP internship program provided me with a wealth of knowledge and understanding about the realities of ICTD and challenges facing the developing world. Africa is my homeland and I am so grateful to this internship for the opportunity to contribute to the development of my people.
~ Rotimi Abimbola, Booz Allen Hamilton
I really wanted to see how science impacted people’s lives. TechBridgeWorld’s iSTEP internship program afforded me the opportunity to do just that. I have seen how hypotheses developed in front of a computer in a remote location just does not make sense once you are on site. Ground-level realities are so important to consider if one wants to successfully implement a sustainable project. All in all, I would say iSTEP has given me my first glimpse into what field work is like; its challenges and also its victories.
~ Beatrice Dias, Carnegie Mellon University
The iSTEP internship program offered me a unique chance to take the technical skills that I’ve developed at Carnegie Mellon and apply them to a very important problem: how can we use technology to help people in developing communities? Through this internship, I was able to work with new people, learn new skills, and tackle new problems.”
~Daniel Nuffer, Jane Street Capital
Through the iSTEP internship program, I had the chance to use my education in the real world and see its impact in real-time. I learned that regardless of how wonderful and powerful a technological solution is, community involvement is the most important.
~ Hatem Alismail, Carnegie Mellon University
TechBridgeWorld’s “Innovating for Underserved Communities: Field Research Basics” was the most challenging course I’ve taken at Carnegie Mellon University and also the most rewarding and inspirational. It taught me to think about problems in a different way and made me believe that everyone has something unique to offer to a group trying to solve a problem. I’ve been lucky to have the guidance of the professors and other TechBridgeWorld staff who were and still are more than happy to help me out or just chat!
~ Lucy Pei, Carnegie Mellon University, TSB ’16
Through my independent study with TechBridgeWorld on the Braille Tutor project, I feel that I became an independent thinker and learner by extending myself beyond classroom work. The project helped me to extend my thinking beyond the course materials that I learned in the classroom and to be more creative in applying my skills in ways that could benefit my society. Through this experience I learned the difference between conducting a research project and presenting it in simplified terms to a general audience so my message can get through.”
~ Noura El-Moughny, ConocoPhillips
Working on my TechBridgeWorld V-Unit project was one of my most enriching experiences at Carnegie Mellon. I worked on the project for two semesters with a fellow student, Vinithra Varadharajan, during my time as a graduate student in the Robotics Institute.
The idea for our project came as a result of multiple visits to the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf where Vinithra and I sat in on a few classes and spoke in detail with an English teacher. We learned that students do not receive sufficient practice with English words and their corresponding American Sign Language (ASL) signs, important components of reading and comprehension. To provide additional practice, we decided to create an intelligent tutor to help reinforce both English and ASL vocabulary.
Developing the tutor was a great learning experience that spanned everything from understanding the needs of the students and teacher to developing a sustainable software tutor that was intuitive to use. It was incredible bringing an idea from inception to a working implementation. In addition to the technical lessons I learned, this project broadened my understanding of deaf education and the deaf community in general.
~Ling Xu, Google
TechBridgeWorld’s V-Unit has been one of the most daring and challenging experiences I had in graduate school and in life. It has given me the opportunity to take my research to a different level.
~ Ariadna Font Llitjós, IBM
It was great to have an opportunity to apply computer science knowledge outside of the field, and to realize how useful it could be. The possibility of enabling scientists from other areas to access state of the art computer science approaches turned out to be incredibly important.
~ Juan Pablo Gonzalez, General Dynamics Robotic Systems
Working with TechBridgeWorld has given me an opportunity to explore my passion for applying technology and education to the needs of development. Through our experience of designing and implementing Project Kané, I have learned a great deal about literacy, about the intricacies of setting up field studies, and about working with partners. This experience has been invaluable.
~ Ayorkor Korsah, Ashesi University College
I feel proud and privileged to be associated with TechBridgeWorld through the Braille Tutor project, which is a revolution in braille education. TechBridgeWorld has brought light into the lives of our students who are living in darkness. On behalf of the Mathru School for the Blind, I congratulate you on your commitment and dedication in introducing innovative technologies, wherever possible, to bridge the gap between developed and developing communities.
~ Gubbi R. Muktha, Founder and Managing Trustee, Mathru Educational Trust for the Blind, India
Working with TechBridgeWorld has been an awesome experience from the start. Sharing and utilizing talent, time, and skills in order to help populations not only in Pittsburgh and the U.S., but all over the world, seems like it would be such a daunting task, but they do just that – proving that technology sharing can improve so many lives while encompassing diversity and culture as well. It is very exciting and a privilege to be involved with such a committed organization. What an excellent model!
~ Joyce Maravich, Teacher, Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, United States
As demonstrated by the robotics course taught at Ashesi University College in Ghana, programs offered by TechBridgeWorld make technology relevant to students in emerging economies. This has and will continue to encourage students to tackle challenges in their communities using locally available technologies. This is both innovative and pragmatic, and for me, is a good way forward.
~ Dr. Nathan Amanquah, Professor, Ashesi University College, Ghana
Using your thumb to text messages you can reach millions thus helping TechBridgeWorld makes a difference using cell technology in remote areas of Africa; no area of the world should be hard to reach!
~ Dr. Theresa Kaijage, Professor, Institute of Social Work, Tanzania
The level of preparation that the iSTEP students have… is commendable. They were very prepared to know what to expect from the community and this comes with a very good background research team backing them up. They had good background about the culture, about the technology infrastructure, in terms of what can be the needs. That visibly is way different from other internship programs or partnership programs that I have seen.
~ Dr. Faheem Hussain, Professor, Asian University for Women, Bangladesh
I first heard about TechBridgeWorld from a gift officer through Carnegie Mellon’s Office of University Advancement. At that time I was a parent of a current Carnegie Mellon student. My son was a senior in computer science and he had benefited enormously from his time at the university. As a parent I felt indebted to the university and wanted to try to give back to the institution that had benefited our family.
Specifically, I wanted to find out about some of the university’s activities in computer science that were meaningful to me and the things my son was doing. What impresses me about the global computer science community is the aspect of sharing–the notion of people donating time and ideas to help a community is pervasive within computer science, from bulletin boards to open source software. TechBridgeWorld (in the School of Computer Science) appealed to me because it accomplished two powerful goals simultaneously. While finding ways of using creative ideas to help developing countries, it also honed the skills of Carnegie Mellon students. My own personal background working in Africa made me realize that involvement in TechBridgeWorld may have a lifelong impact on some participants and made it an activity that I was particularly interested in supporting.
As a sponsor, I enjoyed reading the Carnegie Mellon students’ blogs about their experiences in Africa under TechBridgeWorld, both their technical work and their personal growth experiences. As in all international experiences, there is growth on all sides of the partnership. I decided that as long as I was able to I wanted to support this work. Now as an alumni parent I have continued to support student experiences with TechBridgeWorld through my financial contributions.
~ Professor Donald S. Shepard, Heller School, Brandeis University
I believe in giving back to organizations that helped to shape my life for the better — those that helped define who I am, what I’m interested in — and those that continue to inspire me to become a better person. For me, TechBridgeWorld is exactly that. From my summer internship experience, to the classes I took from their faculty, to the knowledge that they freely share with me and the greater community, TechBridgeWorld has helped shape my life and continues to inspire me to make an impact on developing communities.
When I decided to donate to TechBridgeWorld, it was to do my part in helping to continue this great organization so that future students would have available to them the same opportunities that were afforded to me. My donation was also so that TechBridgeWorld had more funds to continue impacting the countries in which they work and the communities with which they partner.
~ Anonymous Donor, a past student participant who completed undergraduate studies at Carnegie Mellon University
As a Carnegie Mellon alumnus and past participant with TechBridgeWorld I am proud to financially support the program. As someone who works in technology in the developed world, I often feel that we spend too much time chasing the frivolous wants of the wealthy, and the developing world gets left further behind. At the same time, other organizations trying to help the developing world subscribe to the Utopian idea that a purely technical solution will solve all problems. Once the solution is delivered and the team leaves, things fall apart leading to disappointment and disillusionment.
I believe that TechBridgeWorld takes the right approach in establishing relationships with the communities it works with, and collaborating with them to develop sustainable solutions. If there is one thing I learned from the program, it is the importance of collaborating with the local community, so they establish a sense of ownership, which will ultimately make the endeavor sustainable. I think one of the most valuable aspects of TechBridgeWorld is the iSTEP internship program. Not only are there great direct outcomes in the communities involved, just as important are the experiences the students gain. Students gain reasonable expectations of how technology can help underserved communities as well as leadership, communication and organizational skills that will help them no matter what career path they ultimately take. This is a great program that truly has an impact.
~ Evan Hoke, Apple
For [several] years I have been donating money to TechBridgeWorld and I have been very fortunate in that I have had the pleasure of a personal introduction to the work of the team. I have donated to several other causes but have not seen first hand just where the money goes.
It was moving to see such small and inexpensive items, like the Stand Alone Braille Writing Tutor, that have made such a difference to the blind children in India.
The world has come a long way in the past 60 years since I started school. For the first 8 years of my school life I wrote on slates with lead pencils. Who would have thought back then that technology would change the world so much that it would be used nowadays to improve the lives of disabled and disadvantaged children in the developing world in so many different ways, using computers or phones or whatever is needed in the particular country that partners with TechBridgeWorld to improve some aspect of children’s lives?
Another pleasing feature of TechBridgeWorld is the iSTEP internship program which allows students doing an internship to add their contribution to the advancement of projects and to visit the countries that are in partnership with TechBridgeWorld. The interns are from a variety of backgrounds so in time I expect there will be new groups working in different countries and carrying on the work of TechBridgeWorld.
It was pleasing to see how many women are in the team. TechBridgeWorld is an area of technology that seems particularly suited to women.
Keep up the good work TechBridgeWorld.