A+Conversation+with+Jacob+Dubner+17

A Conversation with Jacob Dubner ’17

September 27, 2021

     Jacob Dubner is a Winchester and University of Pennsylvania alum who is currently attending medical school at Columbia University. After being president of student council and Voices Co-Editor-in-Chief at Winchester, Jacob got involved in Penn’s theater scene and volunteer work. He sat down with us over Zoom to talk about college, the pandemic, and an invention to save children under the age of five.

 

What university did you attend and, if you can recall, what factors played into that decision? 

     I went to college at the University of Pennsylvania. I was drawn to that school because Penn is such a strong school in academics and research, and on top of that, I really liked the idea of living in Philadelphia.

 

What was your favorite part about living there?

     I enjoyed living around family, and Philadelphia is a really great city that offers a lot of opportunities to get involved with in-depth volunteering experiences. For example, Penn is located in West Philadelphia, and I was able to volunteer by tutoring local students and helping out with health screening clinics. I’m also a huge Philadelphia sports fan. The Eagles and 76ers are some of my favorite teams, and I really wanted to get to be in Philadelphia around all of that. It worked out really well too because the Eagles won the Super Bowl during my freshman year at Penn, and that was certainly a highlight of my college experience.

 

Which activities were you involved with at the University of Pennsylvania?

     The biggest thing I was involved in was the theater community at Penn. Back at Winchester, I did a little bit of technical theater, building sets and the like, but I also played a lot of sports, so I wasn’t able to devote myself to theater as much as I could have. When I got to Penn, I was able to take that interest to the next level and really make it a major part of my life. I built sets in a role called master carpenter for maybe twelve different shows over the two-and-a-half pre-pandemic years. I was also on Penn’s quiz bowl team, which I had done at Winchester, and I was the president of our Colleges against Cancer club during my senior year.

 

What did you enjoy most about being master carpenter? 

      One of the parts I really enjoyed about being master carpenter was meeting and spending time with friends. Being master carpenter and building sets often meant going to the workshop for ten to twelve hours a week, and that was a big time commitment. But it was cool because you’re with the same people for that period, so you get to know them really well. Also, I had a pretty heavy workload since I was on a pre-med track, and it was really nice to be able to take a hammer and smash some stuff for three hours after being in the classroom or studying all day. 

From there, everything shifted to fully virtual: labs were online, lectures were online, all of it. The entire pandemic—the first spring, the following fall, the following spring— classes were virtual. ”

— Jacob Dubner

How did that experience change during the pandemic?

     It definitely required some adaptation. After the pandemic started, Penn had no in-person theater, so we had to shift to a virtual medium. We essentially needed to make a movie from scratch. We bought green screens and microphones, people were recording on their phones through Zoom, and we were constantly shifting duplicate props and costumes to different people. Particularly, creating the illusion of coordinated dialogue from different places was a challenge. But, overall, I think it worked out very well. It was a lot of effort, but after all of the filming and editing, the final product was really cool. We were really proud of it.

 

How was your education aspect of college affected by the pandemic?

     It was probably rather similar to what occurred at Winchester. Things shut down pretty quickly around March 11 last year. Penn gave students and faculty a week or two extra to deal with what they needed to deal with and get settled. From there, everything shifted to fully virtual: labs were online, lectures were online, all of it. The entire pandemic—the first spring, the following fall, the following spring— classes were virtual. 

 

How did they compare to in-person classes at Penn?

     I definitely missed a lot of the social aspects that came with going to class: walking across campus with your friends in the morning, sitting there and taking notes together, getting to chat, the whole thing. Professors did their absolute best and a really great job adapting to the circumstances, but I think it was still really difficult to make Zoom lectures as engaging and effective as in-person lectures. In the end, I probably didn’t learn as much as I would if I was in person, but I don’t fault the professors for that. I think they did the best they could with those circumstances.

 

What was the best thing and the worst thing about going from a school of Winchester’s size to Penn’s size?

     I think one of the best things was that there were new people to keep meeting. I made a lot of really close friends at Penn, and it was cool that our group could always continue to grow. If you join a new club, you are immediately able to find new people who you never would have met otherwise, and every group of incoming freshmen has more people you can meet. Conversely, you can pretty quickly get to know everyone at Winchester. It absolutely can create a better sense of a tight knit community, but it can also prevent the same ability to meet new people that you might see at Penn.

     The flip side is, I really miss the connection you’re able to form with your professors in high school. It’s totally different in college, where you have a professor for a class freshman year and you may never see that person again. Whereas, at Winchester, even if I only take one class with Dr. Naragon, I still saw him the years prior and the year that follows, so I could really get to know him outside of the classroom. I really enjoyed that aspect back then but didn’t fully appreciate it. Looking back, I definitely miss being able to make those close bonds with teachers.

 

During your senior year, you co-invented the ORTube. Could you describe what it is and how it helps people?

     Absolutely. The ORTube is a 3D printed device that Jack Waters, a really good friend of mine, and I made in Mr. Marx’s research science class. At its core, the ORTube is a specialized measuring cup for salt and sugar. It’s designed to be used for ORS, or oral rehydration solution, which is a mixture of salt, sugar, and water that is extremely effective at rehydrating the body. It’s almost like gatorade. ORS is an important, lifesaving intervention for diarrhoeal disease. People get dehydrated really quickly when they get these infections, which can often lead to fatalities in a short period of time. Diarrhoeal disease is the second leading cause of death for children under five around the world, so anything that might help in this fight is really significant. The existing method of distributing ORS around the world has had issues getting the mixture to the communities which need it most, especially with the challenge of measuring the ingredients. The ORTube can help to address this problem.

 

What were the steps in turning the ORTube from an idea into a lifesaving tool?

     The summer after my freshman year of college, Jack Waters and I partnered with Omni Med to test the ORTube in Uganda. We were very fortunate to work with them: they helped us get to community health organizers that knew the problems better than anyone and could see if the ORTube could work. We got a lot of great feedback for things like the design, if it was easy to use, and, generally, ways it could be improved. Over the course of that next year, we did an almost complete redesign of the tool based on their advice. We simplified it a lot, and the end result was something we were very proud of. From there, it was a matter of applying for grants. We were very fortunate to get funding at Penn that allowed us to manufacture ORTubes, send them to Uganda, and get a more structured study over the course of a year about how they were getting used by community health workers in Uganda. The study ended up encompassing 500 community health workers in the Mukono District of Uganda: we gave them ORTubes and checked in with them frequently to make sure everything was going alright. At the end of the year, we did surveys and interviews with about 250 of them, and that helped us gather some more hard data on whether they thought the ORTube was easy to use and whether the tool was working for patients. We heard back that the tool was needed in the community, desired by the community health workers and designed effectively for patients’ treatment. That just about brings us to the present. The pandemic has made things a little bit trickier in terms of returning to Uganda, but in the meantime, we’ve been trying to secure more funding and improve our capacity to make ORTubes on a larger scale. Particularly, we’re working towards using injection molding so that we can start making ORTubes in the tens of thousands in a cost effective way.

 

Do you have any advice for Winchester’s rising seniors?

     I would say appreciate the little things while you’re in them. With all of the stress, it’s very easy to say “I have to put my head down and push through it,” but if you do that too much, you might reach the end and look up to see the whole year has passed you by. It’s important to stop every once and a while to say “wow, I am here with all these wonderful people, my friends, doing all these cool things. I really appreciate all of this.”

 

In high school and college, what do you consider your legacy? 

     I like to think that my legacy is someone who is first and foremost a kind person, who, whether we were super close friends or just in the same space, I tried to help you if you needed it and be a positive presence to support people. That’s what I care about most with my legacy: being a kind, caring, uplifting person. Beyond that, I like to think that I was able to contribute to the Winchester and Penn community through my time with the different activities that I was a part of. Whether it was theater or Colleges Against Cancer at Penn or Voices, student council, or quiz bowl at Winchester, I like to hope that my time there was able to serve as an example of what you can do if you care about something and put the effort into that. I like to hope that the students in the grades below took my example and tried to follow it to continue to make progress and pay it forward after I left.

Finally, is there anyone at WT to whom you’d like to say “hello again” or dedicate the interview?

     I’d like to give a hello to all of the teachers at WT and a special shout out to the quiz bowl team for winning this season of Hometown High Q!

Thank you so much for joining us, Jacob. Good luck with Columbia!

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Check out the ORTube at https://ortube.org 

A+Conversation+with+Jacob+Dubner+17

A Conversation with Jacob Dubner ’17

     Jacob Dubner is a Winchester and University of Pennsylvania alum who is currently attending medical school at Columbia University. After being president of student council and Voices Co-Editor-in-Chief at Winchester, Jacob got involved in Penn’s theater scene and volunteer work. He sat down with us over Zoom to talk about college, the pandemic, and an invention to save children under the age of five.

 

What university did you attend and, if you can recall, what factors played into that decision? 

     I went to college at the University of Pennsylvania. I was drawn to that school because Penn is such a strong school in academics and research, and on top of that, I really liked the idea of living in Philadelphia.

 

What was your favorite part about living there?

     I enjoyed living around family, and Philadelphia is a really great city that offers a lot of opportunities to get involved with in-depth volunteering experiences. For example, Penn is located in West Philadelphia, and I was able to volunteer by tutoring local students and helping out with health screening clinics. I’m also a huge Philadelphia sports fan. The Eagles and 76ers are some of my favorite teams, and I really wanted to get to be in Philadelphia around all of that. It worked out really well too because the Eagles won the Super Bowl during my freshman year at Penn, and that was certainly a highlight of my college experience.

 

Which activities were you involved with at the University of Pennsylvania?

     The biggest thing I was involved in was the theater community at Penn. Back at Winchester, I did a little bit of technical theater, building sets and the like, but I also played a lot of sports, so I wasn’t able to devote myself to theater as much as I could have. When I got to Penn, I was able to take that interest to the next level and really make it a major part of my life. I built sets in a role called master carpenter for maybe twelve different shows over the two-and-a-half pre-pandemic years. I was also on Penn’s quiz bowl team, which I had done at Winchester, and I was the president of our Colleges against Cancer club during my senior year.

 

What did you enjoy most about being master carpenter? 

      One of the parts I really enjoyed about being master carpenter was meeting and spending time with friends. Being master carpenter and building sets often meant going to the workshop for ten to twelve hours a week, and that was a big time commitment. But it was cool because you’re with the same people for that period, so you get to know them really well. Also, I had a pretty heavy workload since I was on a pre-med track, and it was really nice to be able to take a hammer and smash some stuff for three hours after being in the classroom or studying all day. 

From there, everything shifted to fully virtual: labs were online, lectures were online, all of it. The entire pandemic—the first spring, the following fall, the following spring— classes were virtual. ”

— Jacob Dubner

How did that experience change during the pandemic?

     It definitely required some adaptation. After the pandemic started, Penn had no in-person theater, so we had to shift to a virtual medium. We essentially needed to make a movie from scratch. We bought green screens and microphones, people were recording on their phones through Zoom, and we were constantly shifting duplicate props and costumes to different people. Particularly, creating the illusion of coordinated dialogue from different places was a challenge. But, overall, I think it worked out very well. It was a lot of effort, but after all of the filming and editing, the final product was really cool. We were really proud of it.

 

How was your education aspect of college affected by the pandemic?

     It was probably rather similar to what occurred at Winchester. Things shut down pretty quickly around March 11 last year. Penn gave students and faculty a week or two extra to deal with what they needed to deal with and get settled. From there, everything shifted to fully virtual: labs were online, lectures were online, all of it. The entire pandemic—the first spring, the following fall, the following spring— classes were virtual. 

 

How did they compare to in-person classes at Penn?

     I definitely missed a lot of the social aspects that came with going to class: walking across campus with your friends in the morning, sitting there and taking notes together, getting to chat, the whole thing. Professors did their absolute best and a really great job adapting to the circumstances, but I think it was still really difficult to make Zoom lectures as engaging and effective as in-person lectures. In the end, I probably didn’t learn as much as I would if I was in person, but I don’t fault the professors for that. I think they did the best they could with those circumstances.

 

What was the best thing and the worst thing about going from a school of Winchester’s size to Penn’s size?

     I think one of the best things was that there were new people to keep meeting. I made a lot of really close friends at Penn, and it was cool that our group could always continue to grow. If you join a new club, you are immediately able to find new people who you never would have met otherwise, and every group of incoming freshmen has more people you can meet. Conversely, you can pretty quickly get to know everyone at Winchester. It absolutely can create a better sense of a tight knit community, but it can also prevent the same ability to meet new people that you might see at Penn.

     The flip side is, I really miss the connection you’re able to form with your professors in high school. It’s totally different in college, where you have a professor for a class freshman year and you may never see that person again. Whereas, at Winchester, even if I only take one class with Dr. Naragon, I still saw him the years prior and the year that follows, so I could really get to know him outside of the classroom. I really enjoyed that aspect back then but didn’t fully appreciate it. Looking back, I definitely miss being able to make those close bonds with teachers.

 

During your senior year, you co-invented the ORTube. Could you describe what it is and how it helps people?

     Absolutely. The ORTube is a 3D printed device that Jack Waters, a really good friend of mine, and I made in Mr. Marx’s research science class. At its core, the ORTube is a specialized measuring cup for salt and sugar. It’s designed to be used for ORS, or oral rehydration solution, which is a mixture of salt, sugar, and water that is extremely effective at rehydrating the body. It’s almost like gatorade. ORS is an important, lifesaving intervention for diarrhoeal disease. People get dehydrated really quickly when they get these infections, which can often lead to fatalities in a short period of time. Diarrhoeal disease is the second leading cause of death for children under five around the world, so anything that might help in this fight is really significant. The existing method of distributing ORS around the world has had issues getting the mixture to the communities which need it most, especially with the challenge of measuring the ingredients. The ORTube can help to address this problem.

 

What were the steps in turning the ORTube from an idea into a lifesaving tool?

     The summer after my freshman year of college, Jack Waters and I partnered with Omni Med to test the ORTube in Uganda. We were very fortunate to work with them: they helped us get to community health organizers that knew the problems better than anyone and could see if the ORTube could work. We got a lot of great feedback for things like the design, if it was easy to use, and, generally, ways it could be improved. Over the course of that next year, we did an almost complete redesign of the tool based on their advice. We simplified it a lot, and the end result was something we were very proud of. From there, it was a matter of applying for grants. We were very fortunate to get funding at Penn that allowed us to manufacture ORTubes, send them to Uganda, and get a more structured study over the course of a year about how they were getting used by community health workers in Uganda. The study ended up encompassing 500 community health workers in the Mukono District of Uganda: we gave them ORTubes and checked in with them frequently to make sure everything was going alright. At the end of the year, we did surveys and interviews with about 250 of them, and that helped us gather some more hard data on whether they thought the ORTube was easy to use and whether the tool was working for patients. We heard back that the tool was needed in the community, desired by the community health workers and designed effectively for patients’ treatment. That just about brings us to the present. The pandemic has made things a little bit trickier in terms of returning to Uganda, but in the meantime, we’ve been trying to secure more funding and improve our capacity to make ORTubes on a larger scale. Particularly, we’re working towards using injection molding so that we can start making ORTubes in the tens of thousands in a cost effective way.

 

Do you have any advice for Winchester’s rising seniors?

     I would say appreciate the little things while you’re in them. With all of the stress, it’s very easy to say “I have to put my head down and push through it,” but if you do that too much, you might reach the end and look up to see the whole year has passed you by. It’s important to stop every once and a while to say “wow, I am here with all these wonderful people, my friends, doing all these cool things. I really appreciate all of this.”

 

In high school and college, what do you consider your legacy? 

     I like to think that my legacy is someone who is first and foremost a kind person, who, whether we were super close friends or just in the same space, I tried to help you if you needed it and be a positive presence to support people. That’s what I care about most with my legacy: being a kind, caring, uplifting person. Beyond that, I like to think that I was able to contribute to the Winchester and Penn community through my time with the different activities that I was a part of. Whether it was theater or Colleges Against Cancer at Penn or Voices, student council, or quiz bowl at Winchester, I like to hope that my time there was able to serve as an example of what you can do if you care about something and put the effort into that. I like to hope that the students in the grades below took my example and tried to follow it to continue to make progress and pay it forward after I left.

Finally, is there anyone at WT to whom you’d like to say “hello again” or dedicate the interview?

     I’d like to give a hello to all of the teachers at WT and a special shout out to the quiz bowl team for winning this season of Hometown High Q!

Thank you so much for joining us, Jacob. Good luck with Columbia!

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Check out the ORTube at https://ortube.org 

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