Rehydration Project Wins First Duke STEAM Challenge

A student project aimed at treating dehydration from diarrhea in India took first place in a Duke contest aimed at bringing myriad academic disciplines together

Duke STEAM Challenge winners Saffana Humaira, Suhani Jalota, Rebecca Lai and Kehaan Manjee,with Challenge co-leaders Duke Professor Cathy N. Davidson and Vice Provost of Academic Affairs Keith Whitfield.
Duke STEAM Challenge winners Saffana Humaira, Suhani Jalota, Rebecca Lai and Kehaan Manjee,with Challenge co-leaders Duke Professor Cathy N. Davidson and Vice Provost of Academic Affairs Keith Whitfield.

A Duke student project aimed at increasing the use of a hydrating therapy to treat diarrhea in India has won a university contest and its $10,000 grand prize.

The Ambassadors for Change: ORS project would use artistic tools like cartoons and puppetry to teach adolescent Indian girls about oral rehydration therapy. Hydration therapy uses a sugar and salt-water solution to treat dehydration caused by diarrhea.

The project, created by students Saffana Humaira, Suhani Jalota, Rebecca Lai and Kehaan Manjee, won the inaugural Duke STEAM Challenge, a competition aimed at tapping into a broad swath of academic disciplines, from math, science and engineering to the humanities and social sciences.

The winning team, all sophomores, emerged from an initial field of 22 teams and was crowned last weekend after finalists each pitched their ideas to a panel of judges.

"The Duke STEAM Challenge students did an outstanding job of presenting examples of the intersections between science, the arts, humanities and social sciences," said Keith Whitfield, Duke's vice provost of academic affairs and a co-leader of the challenge along with Professor Cathy Davidson, co-director of the PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge and the virtual learning network HASTAC. "An unexpected and significant dimension to the projects was that many of the pitches included projects of social import."

The winning project was the result of the team's desire to work on a public health issue, said team member Suffana Humaira, who grew up in Bangladesh and moved to northern Virginia during high school. It would use cartoons and puppetry to educate adolescent girls about hydration therapy in the hopes those girls would then explain the virtues of the therapy to their friends and family members.

"If we start with adolescent girls and they adopt the behavior, they can go back to their families and teach the positive behavior," Humaira said. "We hope there's an organic awareness where the knowledge is spread throughout the community."

The team targets adolescent girls specifically for this public health campaign because young women in India often bear much of a family's domestic duties, including caring for younger children and elderly family members, Humaira added. And puppetry was chosen as a delivery tool for the public health message because puppets are a popular cultural and entertainment tool in Bihar, the Indian state that the team is targeting.

"Combining the arts and social sciences, their plan to educate young school girls about oral rehydration therapy demonstrates that global health solutions, even if technologically simple, can be effective only by using culturally relevant ways to engage with communities," said Duke professor Subhashini Chandrasekharan, one of the competition's judges.

Humaira's team plans to continue fine-tuning the project this spring and summer.

The second place project was BrushSTROKE, which combines art therapy and health education to help young stroke victims and to raise community awareness of the increasing prevalence of stroke in young people. Team members included Diego Farias, Zachary Fowler, Madelaine Katz, Rifat Rahman and Thomas Vosburgh.

The third place project was S.U.N.scaping, which aims to accelerate the electrification of isolated communities in Uganda. It focuses on the creation of a multi-lingual manual that would educate people about solar technology. Team members include Julian Borrey, Oluwatobi Runsewe and Lydia Thurman.

The honorable mention project was Doppler Operated-Remotely Effected-Musical Interface, or DO-RE-MI. It explores new ways to translate movement into sound by mapping Doppler radar frequency shifts into musical phrases. Team members include Gregory Canal, Julian (Ian) Couture and Aaron Krolik.

More information on the STEAM Challenge is available at