Comparing COVID-19 mitigation strategies worldwide: Passion for complex global challenges drives MechE alumna’s fellowship project

U of T Engineering alumna Marie Floryan continues to focus on global engineering challenges while pursuing mechanical engineering research at MIT. (Photo courtesy Marie Floryan)

During the pandemic, Marie Floryan (MechE 1T9 + PEY) has been analyzing and comparing COVID-19 mitigation strategies in different countries around the world.

She worked on the side project while pursuing her master’s in mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Floryan was driven by a deep interest in studying global challenges — a passion sparked during her time at U of T Engineering.

In 2020, Floryan was selected as one of 25 recipients of the Engineering for Change (E4C) Fellowship. The fellowship, founded by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Engineers Without Borders (U.S.) and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, aims to deepen engineering students’ and early-career engineers’ leadership and global development.

“The fellowship was a real deep dive into the global engineering space, and it’s been eye-opening,” says Floryan. “It expanded what I know about how engineers operate around the world. When I’m going about solving a design problem, I’m learning to think more about the stakeholders and how I should be engaging with them to get to the actual root of solving it.”

For the COVID-19 project, her E4C cohort studied how engineers responded to the pandemic in high-, medium- and low-income countries, with Floryan comparing mitigation strategies in Canada, the U.S. and Ghana.

“It was interesting to learn that, although the three countries had a lot of similarities in terms of government support, the progress was much quicker in Canada and the U.S. because the governments were able to provide the financial incentives more quickly,” explains Floryan. “Ghana had to rely more on private partners to get funding and are still reliant on the importation of certain products to fight the pandemic.”

The E4C Fellowship supports more than 400 hours of research, 30 hours of networking opportunities with peers and mentors, as well as 30 hours of learning modules designed to advance their knowledge in sectors such as health, transportation and agriculture.

Floryan says applying for the fellowship was the natural next step upon graduating from U of T Engineering, where she zeroed in on global engineering during her final year in mechanical engineering. Through the Centre for Global Engineering, she took courses on technology and global development, as well as designing a food-growing strategy for an Indigenous community in Northern Ontario.

For her fourth-year capstone project, her team worked with international disaster relief charity GlobalMedic (GM) to design a more efficient sandbagging machine for flood-prone areas. Their solution repurposed snowblowers with just a few cost-effective mechanical adjustments.

“One single ‘sandblower’ is able to produce at least 56 sandbags per hour, compared to the current standard of 12 sandbags per hour using shovels,” explains Floryan. “The work was very rewarding and what led me to explore global engineering further.”

In addition to her COVID-19 case study, E4C also provided her an opportunity to research products designed for low-resourced settings, studying how different engineers approached their solutions, from concept to manufacturing.

“There are so many design challenges that we just don’t have to think about in Canada,” says Floryan. “Sanitary pads, for example, is a product that is seen, in some communities, as taboo. This means certain design and distribution considerations must be applied to not only make them safe, but discreet.”

Though there is usually a travel component to the fellowship, Floryan has yet to go abroad due to the pandemic. She is hopeful to visit members of her cohort post-pandemic, and plans to apply her current graduate research — designing a microfluidic device to study cancer metastasis — to a global context.

“The world is becoming more connected and it’s important to shift our perspectives to think more globally as engineers,” says Floryan. “It’s our duty to think about how our actions affect the future and promote more positive, sustainable growth around the world.”

– This story was originally published on the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering News Site on March 4, 2021 by Liz Do

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