Former SMIN Power Group CEO Leads Nonprofit Fighting COVID-19 in the DRC

Former CEO Dr. Sandrine Ngalula Mubenga (Ph.D., PE) was recently profiled by BBC Afrique for humanitarian work in the nonprofit sector. The topic was industrial engineering and medical product design work done by the nonprofit organization she founded in the USA and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to provide STEM Scholarships with the hope of improving electrification in her native country.

 

 

STEM DRC Initiative Logo

The STEM DRC Initiative was originally founded by Dr. Mubenga (Ph.D. PE) as a 501(c)3) nonprofit organization in 2018.  The goal was to promote electrification and economic development by increasing the number of STEM professionals working in the DRC.

Over time, the work of the organization has expanded to include the establishment of STEM DRC Initiative Centers of Excellence to provide laboratory space and support for new STEM DRC Initiative graduates and working STEM Professionals.

Why The COVID-19 Threat Was Especially Dire in the DRC

The COVID-19 Pandemic threatened to be especially deadly in the DRC due to lack of ventilators.  “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 knew 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.  Realizing this, Dr. Mubenga was challenged to invent a new type of ventilator that could be built from parts available within the country.

She decided to challenge STEM DRC Initiative scholarship recipients to be a part of the solution. The STEM DRC Initiative students worked with Dr. Mubenga’s colleagues, including 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).  After a working model was created, the product moved into 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 including battery management applications useful in utility-scale solar power installations, aerospace applications, and even electric automobiles.  However, this opportunity allowed her to work in industrial product design for manufacturing in the real world.  The experience was rewarding, and a lot of hard work, she noted.  It also provided lessons in humility as well.  She learned 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 now teaches as Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering Technology.

Source:

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

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