STEP Reflection Prompts
Name: Matt Lee
Type of Project: Education Abroad- International Engineering Service Learning-Ghana
- Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.
My STEP project was a trip to Ghana, Africa where I worked in a small engineering group to implement a Biogas Generator for the Akumadan Senior High School kitchen. The methane gas that is captured from this generator can be used to cook with, a beneficial alternative to cooking with wood. This project was designed throughout the Fall semester of 2016 and implemented over Winter Break 2016-2017 during a 2 week trip where we were immersed in the life of a Ghanaian.
- What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.
The trip to Ghana, Africa brought me to many areas of vastly different socio-economic standings. Ghana has a large upper class, a very large lower poverty stricken class, and very little middle class (basically non-existent). There were areas where a multi-level mansion with a wall and gate surrounding it towered over neighbors who lived in shacks and dirt floors. Regardless if I talked to someone who owned the mansion or a shack, the joy and welcomeness presented to me was second to none. (Also, side note: it is amazing how a smile and a handshake is universal as an effective and appreciative greeting.) The people we worked with may have incredibly different lifestyles and much less material possessions than the average American, but the goal for a meaningful and happy life was the same. Religious influences are much more wide spread in the culture and the value of family is strong. It is amazing what we as Americans take for granted when compared to Ghanaians. We make ourselves upset and frustrated over what we “want” and what we think we “need” and often never take the time to actually realize the blessings we have. It seems to me that happiness is not a function of money or the quantity of time living but rather the quality of time; the people you live with and the value of relationships with those people and; your own personal mental/spiritual wellbeing.
Another huge and very apparent realization I had during my STEP project was the value of education. There were many un-developed areas of the Ghanaian towns, infrastructure, and everyday life that could be improved upon to improve the quality of life. The major gap that keeps improvements from happening is the lack of adequate effective and affordable education. Once these problems can be identified; problem solving skills taught and practiced; and solutions taught, the people can fix things themselves without outside aid. As with any developing nation, closing the education gap is difficult and takes time and, unfortunately in many cases, money.
Personally, this STEP project helped me realize that I can be a very effective leader when working in a small team. I have noticed throughout the project that I need to be a better delegator and inspire and trust my teammates to complete tasks but I was good at taking the initiative to complete tasks. Many project skills have been improved upon throughout the project and for that I am very thankful. Also, another side note: I would like to give a S/O to my STEP advisor Bob Eckhart for opening me up to the world of food because I now enjoy trying all the local dishes wherever I visit (ie Bhanku and Fufu from Ghana).
- What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.
Throughout the duration of my STEP Project, I had countless interactions with Ghanaians. These interactions spanned from simple messaging via Whatsapp to hands-on teamwork of constructing the biogas generator. During the fall semester, we contacted a few Offinso North District Assembly (ONDA- the local government that Ohio State collaborates with to organize and complete projects like mine) members via Whatsapp but it was very hard to accurately and effectively get the information we needed. Many times those who we were talking with did not understand our reasoning for asking the questions we asked and therefore could not retrieve the answers we needed. These interactions were foreshadowing the events of the in-country trip.
One day near the middle of our trip, my group was discussing the design of our biogas shelter with our professor. All of us were actively contributing our thoughts to improve the design and we weighed out our options prior making a decision and concluding what to do. During this interaction, two ONDA members had a conversation off to the side in Twi (the local language). Holly, one of our group members, stepped aside and asked them what they were talking about. Openly, they replied that they admired our work ethic and how we all contributed to making the best decision, whereas many Ghanaians don’t plan things out and instead jump to conclusions and act on what they immediately think is best. This goes to show that problem solving and planning skills in many Ghanaians are not developed to the extent that ours are. This was prevalent in many other situations as well, such as telling our drivers (that the ONDA had provided) all the things we needed to pick up from the market in one trip. The drivers had a very difficult time keeping track of everything and driving us in the most efficient route to pick everything up. We relied on the drivers to get us to each shop because we did not know where everything was located in the nearby towns. In many cases we would end up wasting a lot of time back tracking due to the route the driver chose.
In prompt #2 I talked about how it didn’t matter who you talked to, everybody had joy and a welcomeness to them that made you feel like a special guest to their home. I was introduced to one of the ONDA members named Kobby. He was about the same age as me, in his 20s, and had been fortunate enough to afford secondary school where he studied English, so his English was very good. I got to know him pretty well throughout the trip and he was very nice, very helpful, and always asked about my wellbeing. I also became a friendly the local children who lived around where we spent our time working. They, like Kobby, were very nice, always enjoyed your company and always wanted to help you with your work (yes, they were great at sanding wood and insisted on carrying our tools). The children’s joy was contagious and they loved to kick or play catch with a small ball. The children basically all lived in shacks with dirt floors and their parents spent their day selling snacks and goods at the market. It wasn’t until I had added Kobby on social media at the end of the trip that I realized that he was raised into a family that was very wealthy (compared to the children). Yet, from our interactions, you could not tell. It was apparent, though, by the material possession and clothing that Kobby would wear… often his clothes were only affordable by the wealthy.
- Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.
My STEP Signature Project, was just that: a signature moment of my life thus far. Being able to see a developing nation on the other side of the globe was incredible. It was extremely eye-opening to witness and live in a society where everyday life is completely different. This project helped me realize the importance of life, the blessings I have, and how much I take for granted. It hurts to think about how selfish Americans can be when the idea of “America” is a dream for a majority of the world. Many people will never be able to live a life where “freedom” and “anyone can succeed with hard work” is possible like it is in America. This experience has inspired me to open my mind to use my talents as an engineer for other possible career paths and future plans.
As an inspiring engineer, I value the lessons and skills that I was able to learn and improve upon because of this project. The IESL and STEP programs provided me an opportunity to work on an engineering project completely dictated by my own (and my team’s) management. At the beginning of the fall semester we were handed an objective, and it was up to us to complete that objective. All of the steps to get there were up to us. My engineering and problem solving skills were put to the test time and time again. Being able to manage a project and work in a team was essential to the success of the project and it proved to be very beneficial to take initiative and lead when problems became tough. All of these skills are key descriptors of a successful engineer and that is what I am working to become. No engineer is perfect, but a collection of great engineers makes for a successful product. I will use the skills gained through this project to help make myself the greatest engineer, teammate, and person I can potentially be.