In September 2014, at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City, I made a commitment on behalf of Ashesi to have gender balance in our new engineering program.
Gender balance is rare in the world of engineering education, but we believe it’s necessary to aim for inclusion. More importantly, we believe in making sure that future engineering solutions to Africa’s problems gain from the perspectives of women. This will be very important for engineering success on the continent. So how can we collectively achieve this?
Women care about people, not machines.
If you go to a high school in Africa today and you talk to girls about machines, most of them are not very interested; if you talk to them about solving problems for humanity using machines, that generates far more excitement. This means that the way we communicate with girls about engineering is extremely important. The design of engineering programs—having real projects that involve solving problems for real people—will also be important.
Women engineers need more funding.
In our part of the world, it is also important that we provide funding, especially for girls, because often families are pushing them away from pursuing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math majors. If there is scholarship funding for girls, it’s more possible for them to pursue majors in engineering.
Women engineers need role models.
When we did the groundbreaking for our engineering program the two guest speakers were women; last year we invited two women onto our board who are engineers; the faculty member who is chairing the design of the curriculum is a woman.
The reason we are having women actively involved in our engineering program, is that they will be real role models for students. In my grandfather’s generation, women could not be head teachers of schools; in my mother’s generation, they could. In my mother’s generation, women could be nurses, not doctors; in my generation, a lot of the doctors in Africa are women. In my generation, women are not so involved in engineering; they are just a handful.
I think the next generation needs to change that and involve more women in engineering. I see this as a progression across generations.
This is the time.
There’s another generation coming, and this is the time for us to start preparing them to break that stereotype of engineering. Wish us luck.
Kpetermeni Siakor ‘15 has keenly followed the world’s work and the progress being made to stop the spread of Ebola. His home country, Liberia, has been one of the worst affected countries and has lost over 2000 people to the virus.
“The outbreak was not taken seriously in the beginning,” says Kpetermeni, as he adjusts his round spectacles. “By the time it was, it had gone out of control. As a Liberian I couldn’t sit and hope all would be well; I had to contribute to the work being done to control this disaster.”
From Ashesi’s campus in Ghana, the country where the United Nations team for combating Ebola is based, Kpetermeni reached out to his colleagues at iLab Liberia, a remarkable not-for-profit technology space which he had helped start. He remembered how the team had been actively involved in crisis response in the wake of Japan’s earthquake disaster, and encouraged them to find ways in which they could help the fight against ebola. The iLab Liberia team spoke to as many people who were directly involved with the situation as possible, in order to understand the technology gaps in Liberia’s fight against Ebola, and how they could build custom solutions for them. They learned that health workers had a problem storing and managing data on Ebola cases—not having any digitalized records of cases, long periods of time between data collection and transmission to the health ministry, emergency dispatch delays and general confusion among health officers handling data—which was slowing down the work to track, control, and stop the disease.
Armed with this feedback, Kpetermeni has joined his colleagues in deploying effective data tools for the health ministry in Liberia. The team is helping provide computers, reliable internet connectivity and iLab volunteers to digitise paper case forms and track Ebola contact cases. The team is also assisting Medical Teams International to map out all the health centers in Liberia in order to track in new cases.
“Each morning I sign in to our team group on Skype, which has some 200 people connected,” Kpetermeni adds. “The group has people from the UN, the MSF and other health agencies involved in the fight against Ebola. We spend each morning understanding the progress we are making, the gaps that need to be addressed and new information that might affect the fight. What is clear to everyone, is that accurate data plays a big role.”
“I am hopeful that we will stop Ebola quicker than is projected. Recorded cases keep reducing, and when Liberia is finally Ebola free, we can continue to work to strengthen the weak systems that allowed it to grow so quickly in the first place.”
Dear Friends, Ashesi University was founded in 2002 with an ambitious goal - an African Renaissance driven by a new generation of ethical, entrepreneurial, and innovative leaders. Now, thanks to a global community of supporters, visionary partners, and faculty, the impact of Ashesi is spreading across Africa. Ashesi graduates launch enterprises, develop new technologies, and work to strengthen Africa’s civic sector. Our faculty are engaged in research on some of Africa’s most pressing challenges, and our educational approach serves as a model for other African universities. But clearly, Africa still has bottlenecks to prosperity - bottlenecks that Ashesi can help address. Africa urgently needs better designed infrastructure and affordable products that address local challenges. We need engineers focused on sustainability, job creation, and problem-solving. To meet those needs, Ashesi will launch a new, innovative engineering program in fall 2015.
I’m proud that Ashesi’s engineering major will set a new standard for inclusion in Africa. Last month, at the Clinton Global Initiative, I made a commitment to achieve gender balance in our engineering program. We are committed that at Ashesi, African women - in equal numbers to men - will guide the engineering solutions to Africa’s challenges. This is a responsibility that we don’t take lightly. At Ashesi, we’ve worked hard to recruit and nurture women, and are proud to have gender parity in our existing programs. Now is the time for Ashesi to lead the way with our engineering program. To meet this ambitious commitment, Ashesi will: design a curriculum intentionally aimed at including the perspectives of women; inspire girls in African high schools to pursue careers in computer science and engineering; fund scholarships for women; and provide the mentorship and counseling necessary to help them succeed in college and in the working world. Our first step is to complete our campaign to launch the engineering program in fall 2015. I hope you will consider joining us and be part of starting this exciting chapter for Ashesi. On behalf of future Ashesi engineers, entrepreneurs, innovators, and ethical leaders, I thank you. Sincerely,
Ashesi Founder & President
We have raised 87% of the funds needed for engineering construction and program start-up. We need your support to complete this project by fall 2015.
Below is a sneak peek of Barikisu Muntari-Sumara's remarkable journey to Ashesi. You can read more stories about Ashesi students and graduates and the impact partners like you have in our 2013 Community Report.
Written by Barikisu: "I was at the market in Accra assisting my mother who is a petty trader of fruits, when I received the call that I had been accepted to Ashesi and was awarded a full scholarship. I screamed at the top of my lungs in the middle of the market— I was excited and honored. It took me days to be convinced that I was really going to attend Ashesi University.
My mother wept tears of joy. She thought I would never have the opportunity to attend university. I come from a community where most believe that a girl’s place is in the kitchen preparing to be a loyal wife to her future husband.
When I was thirteen, my father abandoned our family, leaving the five of us to live on a meager income. My mother knew I was smart and capable and reached out to my father for help funding my education. He refused my mother’s requests, and said that there is no benefit or need to educate girls. He said that if I were a boy, he might have considered my mother’s plea.
Despite our hardships, the expectations of my community, and often being encouraged by others to drop-out of school, I worked hard on my studies. After high school, I enrolled in a catering course with a local NGO. One of the program’s facilitators, Mr. Asante, saw potential in me and helped facilitate and fund my application to Ashesi. He believed in me and thought Ashesi would provide a scholarship for my good grades and family struggles. His advice and guidance paid off.
Gaining admission and a scholarship to attend Ashesi was a turning point in my life. I have learned to stand up for what I believe is right. I am now thinking about how society was meant to be, and how to be an ethical leader to create positive change. I volunteer as a tutor at the Berekuso Crèche and Nursery and Berekuso Primary and Junior High School helping kids learn English. I am also part a project called Upper Progress that improves education in the upper regions of Ghana.
After graduation, I hope to begin a master’s program in finance or investment banking and follow my passion for social entrepreneurship and giving back to society. With a better understanding of microfinance, I will be able to help women, like my mother, who work in the markets gain easy access to capital to grow their businesses. I also hope to continue my involvement with Upper Progress by funding the project and helping as many girls as possible get an education.
I have long known that women have equal potential as men, and should be given the proper training and education to take up challenges and develop the African continent. Ashesi has given me the skills to work for progress in my community, and helped me develop the confidence and sense of duty to speak up when I see something unjust or wrong. I cannot express in words how grateful I am to attend Ashesi and for the opportunities this scholarship has given me.
* Barikisu is a MasterCard Scholar. Thanks to a global partners and donors, 40% of students receive financial aid. If you, or a group you belong to, are interested in sponsoring a student, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
My name is Aba Ackun and I graduated from Ashesi in 2006. I am also a 2014 MBA graduate from University of Virginia’s Darden School of business. Prior to Darden, I spent 6 years after Ashesi working in leading multinational corporations that span the gold mining, financial services, and the inclusive financial services industries. I have worn safety gear and spent time with mining engineers, helping them to convert their technical plans into financial plans for capital expenditure. I have been a currency dealer, riding the highs and lows of the choppy financial markets in 2008. I have also been a part of a movement making $100 loans to micro-entrepreneurs and changing their lives through socially responsible lending. I have worked all over the West African Sub Region, Latin America, Haiti, and in the United States.
But at the core of all of this, I am simply a dressmaker‘s daughter. A person who came from a working class home where neither of my parents had gone to college. So given my station in life, when I finished high school, had Ashesi not been around, my only option would have been to attend any of the public universities whose falling standards had led many wealthy people to send their children abroad for college. Somehow my father heard about Ashesi from a friend who thought that they could offer scholarships to people like me. Thankfully, they accepted me, gave me financial aid, without which my enrollment would have been impossible, and gave me an educational experience that changed the course of my life forever.
I must admit that I found Ashesi daunting at first. For the first time in my life I was being required to think critically, and for a person who had made it up to this point mainly by memorizing and regurgitating material, it was challenging. For the first time, shy and timid little old me was required to speak up, and my opinion mattered. Where I once had no opinion, I developed them, and learned how to argue my case with facts, and critical thinking. My shyness and timidity gave way to boldness, first in my written work as I explored new ideas and then into speech as I learned to present my ideas in front of the entire class. By my final year, I had held a position in the first ever student government at Ashesi.
At Ashesi, my gender for the first time was not a hindrance to my progress as women were treated no differently than men. We were taught that discovering and solving problems was good and that challenging the status quo was acceptable. Ashesi taught me that mediocrity was not alright and my classmates and I were constantly sent out to find problems to solve.
The quality of education that I received at Ashesi was world class and I didn’t begin to fully realize its significance and worth until I entered the working world. Ashesi’s tenets– leadership, scholarship, and citizenship were always with me. I had to distinguish myself in these ways. With the insights I gained from Ashesi and from working in microfinance, I decided to go to business school to acquire the tools that would prepare me for my next experience.
I am excited to have graduated from Darden, and am eager to get some US work experience under my belt, and then head back home to Ghana to start my own venture, a Private Equity fund that invests in and grows manufacturing businesses across Africa. I know that I would not have gotten this far, learned so much, or grown so extensively without Ashesi, and I am thankful to the people here and abroad that made that possible.
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