Work & Celebration with NSBE Ghana


Sossena Wood, NSBE national chair, greets the chief of Nerebihi and Weosi Village, in the Bekwai District, Kumasi, Ghana.

Student officers from All Nations University NSBE Chapter meet with NSBE National Vice Chair Lacie Pierre and NSBE National Chair Sossena Wood (front row, left and second from left).

Markell Baldwin (left) takes notes from Nii Ayi Martey, president of NSBE–KNUST, regarding local farmers’ crop storage capabilities.

Photos by Chris Alvarez

Markell Baldwin’s first trip to Africa was, he admits, “mind-blowing.” The senior electrical engineering major at Purdue University was part of a group of NSBE members who visited Ghana in December on a trip sponsored jointly by the National Society of Black Engineers and the Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) program at Purdue.

At the top of the agenda for the seven-member U.S. delegation was the continuation of an engineering community service project in the rural villages of Weosi and Nerebihi, in Kumasi. But pleasure was also part of the plan and was just as relevant to NSBE’s mission. The U.S. group got to join NSBE students and professionals from the entire region in the 15th anniversary celebration of NSBE Ghana, the Society’s first chapter in Africa.

“It was (excellent). It was historical,” says NSBE National Chair Sossena Wood, who led the U.S. team. “…I think I got the most (from) hearing people speak about the promise of NSBE and what it can do to inspire the people who were there to impact their community and not to let outsiders do it for them. The promise and the solutions for Africans will be African.”

On the surface, it seems like a simple thing: taking NSBE members from Purdue to Ghana for community work and an anniversary event. But as with many engineering activities, a lot of thought and preparation went into the apparent simplicity of design. NSBE Interim Executive Director Virginia Booth Gleghorn tells how the trip came about.

“While at Purdue (as director of the university’s Minority Engineering Program), I was given the opportunity to teach a class as part of Purdue’s EPICS program, which was launched in 1995. EPICS gives students experiential knowledge by requiring them to complete an engineering project in a community as part of their curriculum exercise prior to graduation…. Typically those projects were in the community surrounding the university. But over time, they began to expand and do projects outside of the general area. And now, they’re actually doing global-based projects.

“So I was approached about engaging with the EPICS effort,” Womack says. “The goal was to get more underrepresented minorities involved with engineering project design and implementation on a global scale.” Womack thought a partnership between EPICS and NSBE would be the perfect way to achieve that goal and several others: It would help prepare NSBE collegiate members in the U.S. and abroad for global engineering challenges, by giving them cross-cultural experience. It would give NSBE opportunities to positively impact communities in Africa that need better infrastructure, and it would invigorate NSBE’s international membership.

So Womack traveled to Ghana in August 2011 seeking a university that would be a good fit for a pilot program. She decided on Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi. Later, a senior professor of civil engineering at KNUST, S. Oduro Kwarteng, Ph.D., identified villages that met the EPICS team’s criteria for engagement: no electrical power and problems with clean water supply. Those villages would benefit most from the NSBE/EPICS work. Last year, a team of NSBE student officers and staff made an exploratory visit to the villages that were selected: Nerebihi and Weosi. During the most recent trip, which was funded 50/50 by NSBE and EPCIS, infrastructure improvements were begun.

“We were able to complete two pump repairs” that are providing the villages with running water, reports Phillip Reid. Reid was NSBE chapter president at Purdue and the leader of the EPICS team. He recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. “The next step is going to be water filtration, making sure that the water is totally clean and free of all impurities.” Baldwin was the other EPICS member on the trip. His work in the villages, part of his senior project, is centered on the Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS) system. “(PICS) is a tri-layered bag that is sealed shut to prevent the crops from rotting (or) obtaining any insect infestation and is pretty much (designed to maintain) the crop for a long period of time,” he explains. “Without the bag, or with competitor bags, they would only last a month or two. However, with the PICS bags, they can last upwards of a year, which is very important in these villages that we visited.”

“I think the biggest obstacle at this point is to make sure that these PICS bags are known about and commercially available,” Baldwin adds.

Like the other students in the visiting group, Baldwin says the Ghanaian village project must be made sustainable and that the participation of the KNUST students is vital to making that happen.

“(The Ghanaian students) had so much more insight about the problem that they were really able to tap into the bigger issue at hand,” he says. “I don’t think I should…lead this project, I think I should…support it from a distance. But (they) are the talented engineers who can lead this initiative.”