Emma Sarles: Pamphlets with Purpose

Students from RIT’s colleges of engineering, art and design, business, liberal arts and individualized studies participated in the pilot course, Social Impact Field Experience in Haiti. Here is one student’s impression of the trip:

“I worked in a group on ways to improve commerce in Borgne,” said Emma Sarles, a graduate student in SOIS pursuing a degree in medical device engineering and biomaterial applications. “Buying, selling and reselling goods in the markets is the way of life for many Haitians. After several rounds of brainstorming a prototyping, we came up with a plan to help improve commerce through access to education. Due to difficult terrain and lack of infrastructure, communication and transportation is heavily limited. Adults traveling to more urban villages and cities is not often feasible. Meanwhile, the Haitian government does not do much to bring education out to more rural areas. Something as simple as taking a stack of textbooks out to a rural village would become very burdensome with the lack of roads.

“Along with the women, we came up with the idea to offer affordable and accessible business education opportunities through informative pamphlets with the mission to increase profit from commerce. As you can imagine, communication was the No. 1 challenge. Beyond that, the human-centered design process we aimed to implement has a lot of abstract concepts and unique ways of thinking. This was fairly new for us, brand new for the women we worked with, and the language barrier made it that much harder to exercise the process.  A major learning experience was how to truly "roll with the punches." I had to keep focus and interest on the  project at hand since our local partners were driving many decisions, as it should be when working in developing nations. I had to learn to quickly and seamlessly switch gears and be prepared to throw an idea out the window at any moment. There are many strategies I learned while in Haiti and executing the human-centered design process that I apply to my research regularly.” 

Emma currently works in RIT's Respiratory Technologies Lab on the development of smoking topography monitors for natural environment observation studies. Research in the healthcare field has become her passion. She said, “I hope do this for the rest of my life. Now back in Rochester, my classmate, Emily Lazarus, and I are working with several student groups at RIT and two of our group members back in Borgne to make the pamphlet project a reality. Pamphlets can be fabricated locally and easily transported into the villages in the mountains, bringing education on topics with direct application to the lives of readers. Our project is called Pamphlets with Purpose.”