Students in the Scott Scholars program spent their summer gaining real-world experience and solving issues faced by the military and area healthcare providers.
Two teams of students were tasked with solving a particular design challenge. One team was tasked with analyzing how U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) handles system updates. The other team was challenged to solve the problem of language barriers in the Nebraska Medicine emergency department. Their findings were shared with the Suzanne & Walter Scott Foundation as well as these individual agencies.
Jackson Haselhorst, a junior majoring in mathematics, led a team assigned to analyze how USSTRATCOM handles system updates for both software and hardware.
“There’s a lot of different tensions between finances, between timing between technology, between different priorities,” Haselhorst said. “Our ideation has reflected how broad the problem is. We ideated on how we get individuals to feel more involved and more empowered in the system.”
Haselhorst said that people at the ground level don’t necessarily care about the newest technology. They would rather hang onto something that works, which is especially the case when the cost to pay for that new technology comes out of their own [department’s] pocket. He also said that higher-ups don’t always have the authority to require their reports to update their systems.
“They asked us to look at how they handle those updates and find ways to incentivize it, make it more efficient, make it less costly,” Haselhorst said. “Ultimately, it’s a national security thing. When you’re in the middle of fielding technologies, that’s a weakness. So, the less time we can spend between updates the better it’ll be security-wise.”
One such situation involved the development and implementation of a new satellite system for USSTRATCOM. Haselhorst said the project began over a decade ago and continues to need support as new and updated software is needed to properly use them.
“There’s a difference between having the new satellites up and having the new technology on the ground so they can use those satellites to their full extent,” Haselhorst said.
He said that there’s not going to be a single solution because upgrades take multiple years, especially on this scale. Haselhorst and his team wanted to create a solution that would tackle multiple problems at the same time even if it doesn’t fix everything.
Their proposal was a documentation system, because when projects take years the upgrade tends to outlast the people involved in it. Therefore, his team proposed USSTRATCOM implement a system of monthly documents that would be filled out by people in charge of upgrading systems.
The documents would include questions about something that’s been useful for them to do their job or a point of contact that’s been really beneficial for them.
“Filling out this documentation shows why they’re making decisions and how they’re problem-solving for their job specifically. The documentation can then be handed off to the person that replaces them, inevitably,” Haselhorst said. “Then that [next] person gets a head start on their job because now there’s a bit of a smoother transition of information between the two.”
Zander Gibney, a junior majoring in IT innovation, is a lead for a team of three incoming freshmen assigned to Nebraska Medicine to help its emergency department share critical medical information despite language barriers between patients and medical staff.
“The initial statements Nebraska Medicine pitched us had a lot to do with the language barriers they were facing everywhere in the hospital, but more specifically, the emergency department was where they wanted us to focus for the project,” Gibney said.
Gibney said that there were instances of patients receiving discharge instructions in English despite not understanding English themselves. Oftentimes, the speed required to provide medical care in the emergency department did not allow time for ensuring medical information was presented in the proper language.
“It’s the emergency department so everything is super fast-paced and quick-moving, and they need to make those kinds of decisions about what language this is and what culture they’re working with,” Gibney said.
This resulted in patients not understanding when to come in for their appointments and missing them altogether because they’d have no way of knowing about it. These communication issues would often lead to much worse situations such as patient ailments not being treated and often a decline in overall health.
Coming up with potential solutions required Gibney’s team to speak with those on the front lines including doctors, nurses, and pharmacy techs. It all led to an idea: What if there was an area set apart from the fast-moving emergency department where healthcare providers and patients could slow down and ensure that nothing was lost in translation, ultimately leading to the best outcomes?
Drawing on inspiration from the video game Super Mario Maker, which allows players to design their own levels of the game by adding obstacles and enemies using drag and drop tools, Gibney said they were thinking about a drag and drop template for discharge instructions with a strong focus on graphics. This would allow for a much easier process on both ends (patient and physician) for making sure communication is being prioritized.
“Some of our leading ideas came from our concepts from Nebraska Medicine Mario Maker, aka Beyond Language, particularly the stuffed animal room,” Gibney said. “It sounds ridiculous, but the stuffed animal room lead us to think about what if we had translation services be an entirely different section.”
This separate section for translation services would prevent communication issues from slowing down the emergency department while also ensuring patient comfortability. In addition, Gibney said their “stuffed animal room” idea is a codename for a waiting room area that could be an addition to the separate translation service office. The idea was to create an open, welcoming, and comfortable environment for families of different ethnic backgrounds.
Haselhorst and Gibney, and their respective teams, gained experiences that will be invaluable throughout their college career. As a member of this program Haselhorst has reevaluated his college path and allowed him to realize he’s a creative problem-solver.
“This internship was very intentional for me and lines up with a lot of changes in how I think about my own future,” Haselhorst said. “I care about creativity and problem solving more and I found that naturally in math in high school. I want a creative and problem-solving job. Even if it doesn't line up with math or computer science directly, it has those underlying skills that I want to develop and turn into a career.”
Internships are an important step in the life of a college student because it’s where you get to start applying the skills you develop in the classroom in a professional setting. When asked about how he sees this experience impacting him in the future, Gibney talked about how he prefers being a team leader.
“This experience has very much solidified my aspiration of wanting to become a team leader in the future, especially in the design field,” he said. “These topics that we’re talking about affect a ton of people, and being able to talk about this in the future by saying ‘Yeah, I've done this,’ whether or not it’s successful, is an amazing experience.”
Haselhorst and Gibney both led teams of first-year students as part of this process. Stone-Connor Hoffman, William Harr, Carter Brehm, and Davis Hill joined Haselhorst’s team. Gibney’s team also included Toby Heinemann, Jackson Ward, and Esther Samuel.
About the University of Nebraska at Omaha
Located in one of America’s best cities to live, work and learn, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is Nebraska’s premier metropolitan university. With more than 15,000 students enrolled in 200-plus programs of study, UNO is recognized nationally for its online education, graduate education, military friendliness and community engagement efforts. Founded in 1908, UNO has served learners of all backgrounds for more than 100 years and is dedicated to another century of excellence both in the classroom and in the community.