Ashley Ceniceros

2008 Midwest District Student Merit Winner

Notre Dame’s Ashley Ceniceros celebrated her birthday by claiming the Midwest District’s Student Merit Award. It was a fitting present for a designer who devised a way to extend the lives of babies born in developing countries well past the day of their own birth.

“Last summer, I spent two months in Nepal designing goods for a fair trade cooperative,” she reported. “I lived with a Nepali family and worked alongside artisans everyday.”

During her time abroad, Ceniceros also learned that infections contracted from the unsanitary cutting of the umbilical cord cause most of the neonatal deaths around the world. In many places, the problem stems from thoughtless, yet necessary re-use of tools that sever the cord.

“In an impoverished society, whether the product is designed for reuse or not, it will be saved and used again,” Ceniceros declared. “I wanted to design an umbilical cord cutter that met vastly different needs than the products currently on the market which have achieved design and commercial success here in the US.”

The part time designer of costumes for ND’s theatre department went to work on a solution that would ensure safety both in operation and reuse scenarios all over the world.

The resulting Tumbo is ergonomically designed for self-operation by clamping and cutting the umbilical cord in one motion. It features a co-molded thermoplastic Delrin shell which uses an interference fit to lock the clamp and must be boiled to soften the material enough to disengage the lock. She noted, “This forces sterilization of the house and blade before it can be used again, preventing the product from exacerbating the very problem it is trying to address.”

Ceniceros credits her love of theatre with helping to inform the user-centric solution. “Constructing costumes for Notre Dame's theatre department really helped me understand the construction and form of soft goods,” she said.

ND Prof. Ann-Marie Conrado, IDSA helped Ceniceros get the Tumbo to market and is working with her to distribute the umbilical cord cutter in the markets where it is most needed. The designer has also worked with Tiger Brand Accessories to innovate their line of car cleaning products. “I worked on a reversible sponge with a scrubber on one side and microfiber on the other,” she offered. “It’s currently being sold at Wal-Mart.”

Ceniceros added that three designs generated by her work with the fair trade cooperative have also been ordered by importers from the US and UK.

She’ll graduate from Notre Dame on May 18 and has plans to pursue a career in medical design. “It seems to combine my love of biology with my love of design,” Ceniceros said. “I also enjoy design research. Finding the exact problem and solving it is a great feeling.”

Ashley Ceniceros can be reached at