24th August, 2015 - The fourth edition of the Ashesi Innovation Experience (AIX) came to a grand close this past weekend, as parents, family and friends of over 100 students gathered on campus to see the projects students had developed. The AIX, previously named the Ashesi Robotics Experience (ARX), is an exciting two-week enrichment program, organised in partnership with The MasterCard Foundation, that brings students from different high schools to Ashesi's campus. Ashesi’s faculty designs the curriculum for the programme, and students, alumni and other volunteers help as mentors and program assistants. This year participants came from Ghana, the UK, Kenya and Zimbabwe, with some mentors coming from the US.
Over the two weeks, participants were exposed to design and creative problem solving, leadership, entrepreneurship, robotics programming and engineering, through hands-on projects and experiential learning.
In the first week, activities focused on broad training in leadership and design, and students were taught how to apply creative thinking to everyday problems, and in their everyday lives. In the second week, participants broke into different groups around Engineering, Robotics or Entrepreneurship, where they worked on various projects in teams.
Some of the projects students worked on included building model robots that could simulate collecting and sorting waste in Accra, building solar powered flash-lights and designing a business model for an initiative that helps put under-privileged children into after-school skills training classes.
“AIX is an opportunity to expose young people to new ways of thinking,” says Project Lead and Computer Science Professor, Dr. Ayorkor Korsah. “We are looking to teach participants how to take crazy ideas and make them realistic, and also have the courage to lead.”
Participants got the chance to interact with thought leaders and entrepreneurs across Ghana, including Ehi Benitie of Rancard Solutions, Anne Amuzu of Nandimobile, Regina Agyare of Soronko Solutions, Ghanaian NASA Rocket Scientist Dr. Ave Kludze, and a host of others. The students were also taken on field trips to recycling plants, engineering firms and a number of start-ups to have real world experience of what they were being taught in class.
“Last year, my son could not attend as he was too young,” said Kwame Amanquah Twum, a parent. “Thankfully, he made it this year and I'm hopeful that aside learning skills in leadership and entrepreneurship, he would use this opportunity to come out of his shell and expand his network.”
In the closing ceremony, students and groups from the various groups were given awards around outstanding projects and personal development. Emmanuel Bimpong of SOS Hermann Gmeiner School was awarded for being the most outstanding student at AIX2015.
“It's been fun and insightful,” added Maame Efua Orleans-Boham of Wesley Girl’s Senior High School. “My journey started with lateral thinking - thinking around the rules – and I will be able to apply the problem solving skills not only in the classroom, but also in everyday activities.”
This year’s Innovation Experience was organised with support from Airtel Ghana, Rancard Solutions, Vodafone Ghana, General Electric, Ostec and Citi Investments Company Limited. Media partners included Citi FM and Joy FM.
MasterCard Grace Amponsah ’17, has been selected as 2015/2016 Dalai Lama Fellow at Ashesi. As part of her nomination, Grace receives $10,000 in funding to implement her girls' education project, “A New Dawn.” The project aims to tackle barriers to education faced by girls in Berekuso, and help them develop stronger potential for success.
“Teenage girls are among the most vulnerable in our society,” Grace says. “Statistics by the Ghana Health Service revealed that 750,000 teenagers between the ages of 15 to 19 get pregnant annually. I started the “New Dawn” initiative to reach out to young girls and help them understand how to succeed by making better life choices."
Learning from research her peers had conducted in Berekuso, and working with an inaugural class of thirty, Grace has chosen to tackle issues of sex, education, entrepreneurship and healthy lifestyles. To make it easier for attendance, she has scheduled her weekly meetings on weekends, engaging in interactive learning activities with the girls.
“We wanted to build trust with the girls to allow them to share sensitive stories,” Grace explains. “At the end of every meeting we would reflect on lessons from the day’s interactions, allowing us to build closer relationships with each other. “
With personal authorization from His Holiness, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, the Dalai Lama Fellows Programme encourages a new generation of emerging leaders to come together to address some of the most pressing global challenges. The programme also looks to advance in them, a deeper understanding of the need for ethical awareness and inner values as essential components of effective social change leadership.
Ashesi is part of an exclusive list of twelve international campuses that participate in the Dalai Lama Fellows programme – along with other schools such as Stanford, Oberlin and Princeton.
The Dalai Lama Fellows programme includes three interconnected components: a meticulous selection process to identify promising Fellows at select universities; ongoing, personalized support from programme officers and outstanding experts in their fields to equip Fellows with new understandings and capabilities; and lifelong participation by all Fellows in a Global Learning Community that will strengthen each individual's capacity to lead, while fostering a sense of collective global responsibility, service and action.
As part of her Fellowship, Grace attended the Ethical Leadership Assembly in San Francisco this June to receive coaching and network with other Dalai Lama Fellows from around the world.
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.”
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.
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.
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