Environmental engineering undergraduate collaborates to represent UB

Providing MHM solutions in countries around the world

UB undergraduate students Kelley Mosher, Isabel Hall and Danielle Vazquez at Worlds Challenge Challenge. The three students are holding a sign that reads University at Buffalo with UB's logo

From left to right: Kelley Mosher, Isabel Hall and Danielle Vazquez. Photo: Western University

By Peter Murphy

Published July 16, 2018

Isabel Hall, an incoming senior in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering presented The Flow Project, an initiative she started with UB students from the Departments of Urban and Regional Planning and Business Administration/Public Health, at the World’s Challenge Challenge in London, Ontario.

The team, made up of Hall, Kelley Mosher (Urban and Regional Planning) and Danielle Vazquez (Business Administration/Public Health), earned third place in the regional World’s Challenge Challenge and a spot in the global competition.

Hall first had the idea for this project in spring 2017 when she began research focused on Menstrual Health Maintenance (MHM) with environmental engineering professor James Jensen. Specifically, they studied the relationship that access to sanitary products has on girls in low resource countries such as India and countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“When girls do not have access to sanitary products,” Hall says, “they are less likely to attend school during menstruation. Consequently, high school graduation rates for girls are lower than that of their male counterparts.”

The goal of Hall’s research project was to construct a sanitary pad with three features:  contains locally sourced materials; is biodegradable; and can be easily constructed by women and girls in low resources countries. The World’s Challenge Challenge asks students to solve some of the world’s problems by relating ideas to one of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Flow Project address three of these goals.

In January 2018, Hall discussed her research and the competition with Mosher, who prompted Hall to consider the waste sanitary products produce in low resource countries.

“MHM is not widespread in low resource communities, says Mosher, “but as sanitary products become increasingly available, it is necessary for communities to prepare for potential hazards caused by increasing waste streams.”

Working with some local organizations who provide girls in low resource countries with sanitary products, Hall and Mosher determined many of these communities lack effective ways to manage waste produced by these products.

University at Buffalo environmental engineering student Isabel Hall speaks in front of judges at World's Challenge Challenge

Hall speaks in front of judges during World's Challenge Challenge at Western University. Photo: Western University

“In India, for example, 1 billion sanitary products are disposed of each month,” says Hall, “this waste ultimately ends up in landfills or water sources.”

Hall and Mosher reached out to Vazquez and formally applied to the competition as a team.

The Flow Project is a global initiative to educate children on the proper disposal of menstrual waste. It addresses SDGs 4 (quality education), 5 (gender equality) and 6 (clean water and sanitation). The team of UB students partnered with Buffalo-headquartered organizations working with schools in Ghana and Tanzania. The goal is to implement this curriculum in countries that scored at or below the UN’s developing countries gender development index (GDI).

“Our implementation process is a five-year time span,” says Vazquez, “we will start finalizing our curriculum within the first year and develop waste management evaluation metrics. We will launch our pilot program during year two. During year three, we will evaluate the effectiveness of our pilot programs with our partners. In year four, we will deploy our curriculum to other global partners within the GDI. During our fifth year, we want to evaluate our program’s effectiveness with the metrics we established in year one.”

In addition to partnerships with organizations working in different African countries, the team developed mentorships within UB’s Graduate School of Management, School of Architecture and Planning, Office of Sustainability and Blackstone LaunchPad.

Hall, Mosher and Vazquez competed against teams from the Netherlands, China, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Switzerland. To learn more about the Flow Project, and the reginal competition, follow this link.