#fellowsfriday: meet betsy asma.


Happy #FellowsFriday readers!

This is our final #FellowsFriday for a bit, but we saved a great one for last! Meet Betsy Asma:

Emily: Betsy, first of all — welcome! We’re so happy to have some new faces and minds on our team!

Betsy: Thanks! I’m very happy to be here.

Emily: Let’s start off with the basics: Where are you from? Where did you go to school? What did you major in?

Betsy: Well, I grew up in Wisconsin and majored in biomedical engineering at Marquette University in Milwaukee. I briefly worked in the medical device industry and then attended Duke University for a Master of Science degree in Global Health.

Emily: Oh, wow! That’s incredible. I think you’ll bring a whole new set of eyes to the fellowship with a graduate degree in global health. I can’t wait to see what you do with your project. It’s BreathAlert, right?

Betsy: Yes, I’ve “inherited” the BreathAlert device from Becky Selle. I’m hoping to tweak the device a bit to detect not only sleep apnea, but signs of other issues in the infant as well.

Emily: That’s cool. I think the more use clinicians and nurses can get out of one device is crucial.

Betsy: Agreed. I’m welcoming the challenge and have really enjoyed it so far.

Emily: So, I know what you do all day during the weekday, but what do you do during your free time?

Betsy: I run, cook, eat, read, and travel!

Emily: Since you love to read, what would you say is the best book you’ve ever read?

Betsy: Too many to even count! How does that quote go…”a house without books is like a room without windows”?

Emily: I’ll let it slide for now, but I would suspect our readers would want a book recommendation from you at some point!

And what about your personality? How would you describe your general outlook on life?

Betsy: Just be kind and laugh every day.

Emily: I know people hate that question, but I think it reveals a great deal into others’ worldviews. Great answer — it’s simple in the best way.

Now, on to the good stuff — how did you first learn about Rice 360°?

Betsy: Actually a few years ago, I attended what was then called the Beyond Traditional Borders Design Competition at Rice as an undergraduate! I presented on my senior engineering design project — a human-powered nebulizer for the treatment of respiratory diseases in rural settings.

Emily: Whoa! That’s so cool. We love stories that come full circle like that. You’re a testament to Rice 360°’s ripple of impact, I think. I’m so glad you had a positive experience with Rice 360° back then, and have come to work with us now!

Now that you’re an official member of the squad, what’s been the most surprising aspect of Rice 360°? What did you not anticipate before starting?

Betsy: What has really struck me is how such a small team outputs so much work! It’s amazing when you look at all the work Rice 360° has done, and then meet the small but extremely dedicated team behind it all. It’s incredible and inspiring.

Emily: We are a lean, mean machine.  Thankfully, we have help from our partners in Malawi and the Rice community to help with some of it. What do you hope to contribute?

Betsy: As we briefly touched on, I’ll be continuing the engineering development of the BreathAlert technology. It’s a low-cost device that wraps around the belly of an infant and monitors for apnea, which is a common cause of death in premature babies. If apnea is detected, vibrating motors are activated to interrupt the apnea. In low-resource settings, monitoring and correction of apnea is difficult due to the lack of equipment and staff shortages, but BreathAlert can provide the technology to intervene and alert staff if further interventions are necessary.

I’m so excited to be surrounded by such smart colleagues who are so dedicated to using science and technology to decrease unnecessary maternal and neonatal deaths. I’m looking forward to learning and collaborating with engineers, social scientists, nurses, and pediatricians, both locally at Rice and in Malawi, because collaboration really is the key to tackling these huge challenges.

Emily: I think you’re going to be an essential component of our team in no time. I can tell you’re really passionate about the work we do.

How did you initially start studying global health?

Betsy: My initial interest in global health was rooted in social justice and how I could use a career in engineering to make a greater impact. At Duke, I became very involved in women’s health — my Master’s thesis involved the design, development, and manufacturing of a low-cost colposcope for the detection of cervical cancer in low-resource settings.

Within global health, I’m very interested in how the development of appropriate technologies can help tackle the growing burden of unnecessary deaths of both women and children.

Emily: And further down the road, where do you see your experiences at Duke and Rice 360° taking you?

Betsy: I really hope to continue working at the intersection of biomedical engineering and global health, whether it be in actual technology development or continuing towards a more technical advisory role. With the 17 technologies included in the NEST360° package, Rice 360° seems like a great place to be!

Emily: Yes, I think you showed up at the right time!

Alright — one of my final but hardest questions: what does success look like to you, in the immediate or the long-term?

Betsy: That is a hard question!! Success to me is all about finding balance. Balance between career and life; using your talents to help others while nurturing friendships with loved ones. To me, you can’t have a successful and impactful career without having work/life balance.

Emily: I couldn’t agree more. Balance is everything. Okay now, for fun, tell us a fun fact about you!

Betsy: I ran my first ever marathon this past Sunday! Ahhhhhh!!!

Emily: Well, you survived! That’s incredible. There are some killer runners on the Rice 360° team — y’all should start a club!


In other news….

Don’t miss our final 100&Change Facebook Live event NEXT Friday! We’ll be broadcasting live from 3rd Stone Design in San Rafael, California, and we’ll be talking about the production, distribution, and financing sides of NEST360°. 

Be sure to tune in and submit a question!

That’s all for now!

Betsy and Emily

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