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Natural Sciences Researchers Win President’s Award for Global Learning

Natural Sciences Researchers Win President’s Award for Global Learning

Two teams with College of Natural Sciences faculty members and students – and three additional teams with undergraduates from the college – were recently honored with the President’s Award for Global Learning, which aims to highlight innovative solutions to global problems and give interdisciplinary teams of faculty and students the opportunity to take those projects to international sites.

A team led in part by Luisa Gil Fandino and Jessica Ciarla, assistant professors of instruction in the Division of Textiles and Apparel (TXA), and textiles and apparel student Dominic Schillace, plans to develop sustainable, biodegradable sequins and manufacture them in Copenhagen. The project is an interdisciplinary effort between TXA and the Department of Chemical Engineering, with students also from liberal arts and business.

Ciarla came up with the idea after hearing fashion designer Stella McCartney lament that she was unable to find sustainable sequins.

“Currently, sequins are made out of plastic and don’t biodegrade. I looked around and didn’t find any companies that were producing biodegradable sequins that could scale,” Ciarla said. 

Students will work on the project over the spring semester and spend part of the summer in Copenhagen. They aim to bring prototype sustainable sequins to the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in May 2021.

“Circular fashion is the way the industry is shifting, and Copenhagen is an important center of this change in design thinking and product development,” Ciarla said. “We’ll be working with the Copenhagen School of Technology and Design on this project and this is an incredible opportunity to expose our students to a different place and a different culture who are leaders in sustainable fashion.”

Paul Toprac, associate director of game design and development in the Department of Computer Science, biology senior Shilpa Rajagopal, computer science senior Rosaleen Xiong, neuroscience junior Nima Rahman and population health professor Phillip Schnarrs, who is also affiliated with the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences, are among the collaborators on another team. That team aims to develop a mobile app to help doctors in India better understand how to treat LGBTQ patients.

“Because of a recent change in the law, these patients are able to be open about their orientation and identity for the first time. Currently, doctors’ offices are just not set up to be inclusive,” Toprac said. 

For instance, patient-intake forms may be gender-binary. Stereotypes and misinformation also exist about the LGBTQ patient population. Toprac and his team plan to travel to India this summer and interview members of the LGBTQ community there and work with physicians in Chennai to design an application to help physicians navigate a changing and challenging landscape.

“We want to help doctors so they can help people,” Toprac said.

Five teams were selected from among 24 proposals, and all had representation from the College of Natural Sciences. In addition to the teams above, 2019-2020 award-winning teams include:

  • “A Bittersweet Burden: Understanding Causes and Consequences of Diabetes Complications Using Design-Thinking in Puebla, Mexico,” with biochemistry junior Harrson Mark, biology senior Joyce Tiong and nutrition sophomore Kathryn Quan;
  • “How Autonomous Vehicles Might Aid Vulnerable Populations: A Case Study in Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games,” with computer science junior Eliezer Pearl; and
  • “Using Interprofessional Education to Improve Community Health in Kenya,” with public health junior Livia Frost and public health sophomore Siddha Sannigrahi.

The President’s Award for Global Learning is the signature program of the International Board of Advisors, a select group of influencers who, together with UT President Gregory L. Fenves and senior leadership of The University of Texas at Austin, are working to expand UT’s global network. Each team will receive $25,000 to implement their projects, as well as additional financial support for travel and other expenses.

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Friday, 03 February 2023

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