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Professor Sienko Selected as Miller Faculty Scholar



Kathleen Sienko, Associate Professor of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering, has recently been selected as a Miller Faculty Scholar, earning both honorary recognition and funding for current and future research projects.

Currently, Sienko heads research endeavors in two separate labs — the Sensory Augmentation and Rehabilitation Lab (SARL) and the Lab for Innovation in Global Health Technology (LIGHT). In the SARL, Sienko and her team focus on the potential long-term and short-term effects of biofeedback as a means to improve balance. Sienko explained the potential of such devices on an individual level, as well as for the broader medical field.

“The idea of using a feedback device as a training aid is that when you take it away, you would still benefit from having used it,” Sienko said. “Also, the field as a whole has yet to be able to produce a biofeedback strategy or system that allows someone to benefit during walking.”

In her second lab, abbreviated LIGHT, Sienko and other participants study how to address healthcare dilemmas in resource-limited settings. Additionally, the team stresses the importance of thoroughly involving stakeholders in the innovation development process. Sienko recently utilized new research being done in Engineering Education in order to collect better data that will support more informed decision-making in such settings.

“We’re trying to better apply techniques from design ethnography to design studies that will provide the meaningful data we need to justify decisions during our design process,” Sienko said.

LIGHT efforts will continue in the form of a Summer 2014 Design for Global Development in Africa program led by Sienko. The program, for which applications are now being taken, will allow students to apply what they have learned in the lab to sites in Ghana, Ethiopia, and Kenya.

The Miller Faculty Award is given by U of M CoE alumnus Larry Miller, whose interest lies in supporting research in medicine and human health.

The Miller Award will endow Sienko with $15,000 per year for the next three years to fund research projects of her own choice. She plans to use the funds to support the expansion of the Global Health Design Program and further the balance studies performed in SARL. Additionally, the award has the potential to open up more opportunities for external funding.

“The funds have a lot of flexibility, which allows me to collect pilot data I wouldn’t otherwise be able to collect in the fields of balance and global health.” Sienko added. “It’s an incredibly valuable source of funds that will make a big difference to my work.”

In 2011, Sienko gave a TEDxUofM talk on the challenges of global health and the effective development of new medical innovations in resource-limited settings. In 2012, Sienko received an Undergraduate Teaching Award from the University, along with the Provost’s Teaching Innovation Prize.

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