The room was packed with friends, family and judges, and bustling with intense euphoria as four teams prepared to render account of their hard work over the preceding 3 weeks. The venue was the Impact Hub Accra, Ghana, the time was 3pm GMT, and the occasion was “The Pitch Day”, the climax of Nsesa Foundation’s 3-week intensive innovative bootcamp, Project iSWEST 2018!
Over the next 3 hours, four teams of students presented and demoed innovative solutions to problems in Ghana’s education sector along with their business models to a panel of judges and the general public. The teams were:
- Tech Marshalls, who built Braille Plus, a low-cost braille keyboard and printer for blind students in Ghana.
- Globit, who built Brilla, a quiz app to stimulate learning through competition among JHS and SHS students.
- TechEd, who built Suapa, a syllabus tracking app to aid teachers complete GES and WAEC syllabus on time.
- Creaders, who built Parent Lookup, an app for parents to easily access information about wards from their school.
Gracing the occasion as judges were 3 distinguished individuals with several years of practical experience as innovators themselves. Our judges were Dr. Thomas Tagoe, Co-founder of GhScientific, Freda Yawson, Founder of Innovate Ghana, and Charles Ofori, Cofounder and CEO of Dext Technologies.
Our judges assessed teams based on a rigorous set of criteria including students’ understanding of the problem they were addressing, currently existing solutions, testing and evaluation with users, and a convincing business model among several things. At the end of a scintillating evening full of fun, Globit were adjudged winners of the competition with their Brilla project.
Project iSWEST (Innovating Solutions with Engineering, Science & Technology) is a 3-week intensive innovation bootcamp organised by Nsesa Foundation for high school students in Ghana. This year’s program was the 5th edition and took place from July 10th to August 4th at the University of Ghana, Legon.
Project iSWEST 2018 admitted twenty-one (21) students, comprising 13 males and 8 females (38%) from different schools across Ghana. To help maintain a significant female percentage, full scholarships for 5 spots were made available to female applicants thanks a grant from the 2018 Anita Borg Systers Pass It On Award. This year’s cohort of students have accomplishments that span starting science and math clubs, being contests at the National Science & Maths Quiz, winning the regionals of the Robotics Inspired Science Education, and getting admission into Ivy League schools like Yale University and Dartmouth College.
We recruited twelve (12) volunteers who contributed in various capacities to make the program a success, with the project lead from Ashesi University. The volunteers were mostly students from various universities within and outside Ghana such as the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), University of Ghana, Pan African University Institute for Water and Energy Sciences (Algeria), and University of Development Studies.
Project iSWEST was in two parts, the workshop phase and the innovation phase. In the first week – the workshop phase, students received hands-on training in three courses: Computer Programming, Arduino, Innovation.
For Coding, students were introduced to core concepts in computer programming such as variables, conditionals, loops, and functions, culminating in the building of a Pong game. The Coding course was modeled after Dartmouth’s introductory computer science classes: CS1 & CS2.
For Arduino, students were introduced to the Arduino platform, basic electronics, sensors and actuators. At the end of the course, students built prototypes of a weather monitoring system.
For Innovation, students learned the innovation process from need finding through brainstorming, selecting solutions with decision matrices and prototyping, as well as developing business models for their solutions. The innovation course was modeled after Dartmouth’s Introduction to Engineering class: ENGS 21.
Smartphone Coding Experience
A year ago, we pioneered the teaching of coding on smartphones in Ghana at Project iSWEST 2017 because most of our students did not have laptops. This year, we continued teaching coding using smartphones. The lack of laptops was not a barrier to learning to code as 82% of our students used their smartphones to complete the assignments for the coding course.
In the second and third weeks – the innovation phase, students received funds and were mentored to develop solutions to real-life problems in Ghana’s educational sector. Our students learned to use project management tools like Slack, Trello, Gantt Charts, and prototyping tools such as MockingBot. Students used lessons learned in all 3 courses to develop their solutions, which were presented on the Pitch Day.
Our students were privileged to have mentoring sessions with 8 young Africans: PhD students, nonprofit founders, software engineers working at Slack, Amazon, Google and Facebook, who are alums of Grinnell College, Texas A&M University, Stanford University, Princeton University, Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Virginia and Dartmouth College.
Guest Speaker: Dr Elsie Kaufmann
Dr Elsie Kaufmann, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Ghana and Quiz Mistress at the National Science and Maths Quiz competition visited the students during the innovation phase. Our students were delighted to meet and interact with her. She shared thoughts on innovation in education and answered questions from the students.
Post-Project iSWEST 2018
Two of our students Sylvester Elorm Coch and Sarah Adams from team Tech Marshalls were invited for an interview at at Starr FM 2018 where they talked about their prototype system, which they built at Project iSWEST 2018 – Braille Plus, a low-cost Braille keyboard and printer system for blind students in Ghana.
Our students shared their thoughts on the program and how it had impacted them with quotes such as:
“I really enjoyed all the moments and now believe in myself that I am a great leader
and can always do better”
“A community of great leaders with a burning desire to change the world”
“The best and greatest course I have ever attended”
“The answer to great future leaders. Take this opportunity and hold it like an egg”
Team Nsesa – The Team Behind Project iSWEST
The program was organized by Team Nsesa, a team of highly motivated young Ghanaian scientists and engineers, passionate about creating change by promoting a culture of innovation. Nsesa literally means change in the Ghanaian language, Twi. Our vision is to spur an “Innovation Revolution” in Africa: a movement in which young people across the length and breadth of the continent are developing innovative solutions to problems in their communities using STEM.
The founding team members are as follows: George Boateng, alum of Dartmouth College, USA, Isaac Sesi and Victor Kumbol both alums of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Ghana. We met in high school and we now live in different parts of the world, tens of thousand of kilometres apart, across 2 different continents and time zones. But we’re driven by a common passion to see Africa transformed through science and technology and neither the distance nor the difference in time zones can stop us!
Partners and Sponsors
This year’s program was sponsored by the University of Ghana’s Physics department, which provided the venue for the program. Previous and current partners of Project iSWEST are: Clinton Global Initiative University, High School Society, and the following Dartmouth institutions: Thayer School of Engineering, Institute for Security, Technology and Society, and the Neukom Institute for Computational Science.
Over the past 5 years, we’ve impacted more than 100 students directly through our programs: our students have developed 14 team projects that have addressed problems in Ghana, our alumni have started 2 entrepreneurial ventures and won over 10 major awards for their ventures, and won competitions such as MTN Ghana Apps Challenge, and UAE Space Hackathon.
We are excited about the passion of our students and they renew our hope in Ghana and the African continent at large as a place to build a community of innovators and world changers. At the core of Project iSWEST is our desire to inspire young Ghanaians and African to believe that they can be innovative as well as empower them to develop solutions to the problems within their communities. We are on mission to transform the African continent. We are 5 years in and we have barely scratched the surface of what is possible. And we shall not rest until we create an Innovation Revolution in Africa through Project iSWEST – Inspire! Innovate! Impact!