Rochester Technology

RIT grad students lend a sustainable hand in Haiti

Sitting anywhere on a college campus, you’ll hear a lot of students discussing what they can do to benefit themselves. “Which classes should I take next quarter?” or “What club or activity would look best on my resume?” Very rarely, it seems, do you hear someone say “What can I do to help others?”

In August, four RIT students asked that very question. As part of a class in the Kate Gleason College of Engineering, Sarah Brownell and Brian Thorn led a 10-day trip to Haiti. Along for the ride were graduate students Shwe Sin Win, Kim Hunt, Ricki Pavia and Darinee Narimarnkarm. In Haiti, the students worked on a project for Meds & Food for Kids.

Meds & Food for Kids was created in 2003 by Dr. Patricia Wolff:

Meds and Food for Kids’ approach is to use local labor and local resources to manufacture Medika Mamba, a treatment for malnutrition, which in turn develops the local economy.

The students worked with MFK to help find a better way to deal with a contaminant occasionally found in the peanuts used. By removing the contaminant, MFK would be able to use more of the locally grown peanuts, in turn helping Haiti’s economy and lowering the rate of malnutrition.

The students were able to see what it’s like to have the experience of developing and manufacturing a product in a developing country,” said Sarah Brownell, Engineering and Developing World teacher. “I think they wanted to see what constraints there are and how they can design better with them in mind.”

In a day and age where it seems that the typical human tends to think more about what can help than, as opposed to what can help others, it’s nice to see that there are still some college kids out there that want to truly make a difference.

On their trip, these four graduate students not only did what they could to help at that moment, they also planned for the future. The students met with organizations like Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods and MFK to discuss projects for future RIT graduate students to complete.

For more information on what you can do to help Haiti, go to

Science Technology

Researchers find Twitter data to be as reliable as official reports of Haiti cholera outbreak

I’ve joked for a long time that there exists in Rochester a sort of “Twitter Doppler” reporting system for weather. When big storms roll into the Rochester area, you can accurately measure their passing simply by watching the #ROC hashtag for that few hours.

But as it turns out, Twitter actually is pretty good at tracking crises in real time and that fact is receiving some scientific mention today, as Nature reports that researchers find that in Haiti’s cholera outbreak, the direct reporting on Twitter was nearly as accurate as official reports.

In fact, they found the reports to be much faster. That’s the least we could have expected, of course. But on the average, they found those faster reports more accurate, which is surprising even for those of us who believe in Twitter’s power as a communicator.

There are a few necessary caveats, of course. Twitter reports will likely be urban-biased, since wealth is largely urban-biased. Also, to the extent that journalists are the drivers of social media reports – a variable not defined in the original article – they will also be urban biased.

But it seems to me that official reports are at least as likely to have the same bias, since especially in more remote locations, rural life is difficult to get to. Moreover, official reports often have political biases for which we cannot necessarily account or make predictions. That social media was able to shed some light on the situation raises the question of what might happen in the context of a more closed society than Haiti.

Twitter data accurately tracked Haiti cholera outbreak : Nature News & Comment.


Let them eat (mud) cake

I shouldn’t make light of this situation at all, the title of this post just came to me.

Haitians are going through convulsions as a result of the food and fuel shortages and rising prices across the globe in a way very few of us here realize.  Their prime minister’s position has already been toppled; their food prices have jumped 80% in a year; the food provided as relief by the U.N. is running out.

And now, they’re eating mud cakes.  It’s a revolution and a humanitarian crisis, right on our doorstep, folks.