Buffett SIGP student spotlight: Izzy de la Guardia

October 5, 2017

With support from a Buffett International SIGP scholarship, Izzy de la Guardia (McCormick 2019) spent the summer as a design engineering intern at Po Paraguay, a nonprofit that 3D prints prosthetic limbs at low cost in Asunción. Here is her experience at Po in her own words:

My interest in engineering was spurred by the experience of a cousin of mine who received a lower-leg amputation after being diagnosed with osteosarcoma. I witnessed him undergo the time- and cost-intensive process of testing out different prosthetics. The immense potential of developing prosthetic technologies fascinated me, but his experience made me aware of current shortfalls in accessibility, cost, and design.

This motivated me to improve the quality of life of people by pursuing a degree in manufacturing and design engineering with a certificate in entrepreneurship. I currently work as a shop trainer in the Segal Prototyping and Fabrication Lab to advance my rapid prototyping skills so I can bring my designs to life. 

Izzy at Po Paraguay with a clientWhen I learned about Po Paraguay, I immediately knew I wanted to spend my summer working for them. The nonprofit works to make quality prosthetics accessible and affordable for everyone through use of new technologies like 3D printing. Current prosthetics costs over $10,000. Having witnessed my cousin’s struggles, I know the importance of creating an affordable, customizable solution to artificial limbs to help people live their lives to their fullest potential.

Izzy de la Guardia with a Po Paraguay clientPo delivers customized prosthetics from online measurements in just 15 days. Besides lowering costs through 3D printing, Po offers subsidies and payment plans for all income levels. They work with each client to create a custom product that the user is excited and proud to wear, such as an “Iron Man” hand for a young boy, or a shiny red hand to match a little girl’s favorite rain boots.

The most important lesson my internship at Po taught me is that our possibilities are limited to the size of our dreams. Po was founded by two individuals in their early twenties who identified a real need in their community—that less than 1% of people with upper limb amputations received prosthetic limbs—and took a risk to try and solve the problem.

Inspired by designs they had seen on the Internet, they purchased a 3D printer and began producing prosthetic hands, not knowing where the project would take them. The co-founders went on to win multiple entrepreneurial competitions and expand their team, or “EquiPo” [“team” in Spanish].

Po’s success story taught me that you don’t have to depend on current structures to find your dream job or to fix the world’s problems. Po’s use of principles of entrepreneurship provides a sustainable model for growth, but they are slow to let economic concerns discourage them from experimenting and exploring new projects. This concept has breathed new life into the entrepreneurship certificate that I am pursuing at Northwestern. The confidence I now have in the power of an idea will complement the technical skills I am learning in class and equip me to take a risk if I find a problem worth solving. 

Because of Po’s philosophy of empowering people, I felt comfortable taking charge of my project, asking questions, and proposing and challenging ideas. I learned skills on the job that were outside of my realm of experience, and also served to highlight which skill sets I should work on when I return to Northwestern. 

As a student on financial aid, it was imperative for me to get funding to cover the expenses from traveling and working abroad. Po Paraguay, as a nonprofit social venture, does not have the budget to pay for my work. Without the Buffett SIGP scholarship, I would not have been able to take advantage of this amazing opportunity. 

Learn more about funding opportunities for undergraduates offered by the Buffett Institute.

Americas, Technology, Undergraduate Students