Christine Schindler with former President Bill Clinton. [Credit: Clinton Global Initiative]
Christine Schindler with former President Bill Clinton. [Credit: Clinton Global Initiative]

On the Plaza: Making Change

September 24, 2012

When Christine Schindler was five years old, she decided she wanted to be an artist. Then, sometime later, she realized it was Broadway that was right for her. And then writing became her future career.

It took Schindler until her senior year of high school to consider engineering, and she only did so because her parents told her it would be a good career to pursue. “Through high school, I just never really understood what engineering was,” she says. “But I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I just went with it.”

In her first semester at Duke, she took an “Introduction to Global Health” class that connected engineering to her desire to make a tangible difference in the world. “I just realized how many problems exist in the world that could be solved by engineers,” she says. But she also wondered how many women, like herself, never considered engineering as a path to social change. While still a freshman, she started Girls Make Change Through Engineering, a pilot program that pairs college engineering students with middle- and highschool girls to design and build low-cost medical devices for clinics in the developing world.

Christine Schindler '15

Major: Biomedical Engineering

Hometown: Fairfax, Virginia

In March, Schindler’s idea got an unexpected endorsement at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) University, a conference for college students convened by former President Bill Clinton. “I went to the opening session when President Clinton was talking about different projects, and then he just mentions my name and my project,” says Schindler. “It was just incredible support, and I could barely wrap my head around it.”

The project has since received a wave of publicity. Duke’s chapter of Engineering World Health committed to funding its pilot stages, and Schindler made connections with global-health professionals at the CGI America conference in June, which she hopes will lead to long-term funding. She plans to evaluate the project with local schools this fall and hopes to expand it to other universities in the spring.

The biggest thrill, though, has been showing young girls a map where the devices they helped build would be used—and seeing them realize the impact their work will have.

“That [realization] is what made me start to actually get excited about engineering,” Schindler says. “I just want to give younger girls the opportunity to see how they could do that also.”