Global impact: First Barrett Global Fellow is George Yaw Obeng, professor, researcher and engineer from Ghana

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March 28, 2017

Barrett Honors College believes preparing students to be effective global citizens is imperative for pioneering new frontiers of knowledge and inventing solutions to global challenges. The honors college aims to take the best students in the world, expose them to global issues and people from throughout the world, and prepare them to lead throughout the globe. To that end, Barrett has established the Global Fellows program for visiting faculty and dignitaries. The program, which began last fall, focuses on bringing together students with Global Fellows to share ideas and insights and work on projects with worldwide implications, with the expectation that these experiences will change students’ outlooks and heighten their understanding of the world around them.

“The impact on the students here is immense: we will be bringing world leaders in science, business, and politics, as well as other fields, to Barrett for students to get to know and interact with as one prong of a thrust to lead them to being better-educated global citizens,” said Mark Jacobs, dean of Barrett Honors College.

George Obeng with students

George Yaw Obeng, center, is Barrett Honors College's first Global Fellow.

The first Global Fellow is George Yaw Obeng, an engineer, senior researcher, and former director of the Technology Consultancy Centre at the College of Engineering at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, Ghana. Obeng, who holds a PhD in development studies, has been a faculty member at KNUST for 22 years.

Since last August, Obeng has been on sabbatical at Arizona State University, serving as a Global Fellow at Barrett Honors College. Last fall, he co-taught a course called Best Practices in Humanitarian Engineering with Mark Henderson, an engineering professor, associate dean of Barrett at the ASU Polytechnic campus, and executive director of GlobalResolve, a social entrepreneurship program that enhances educational experiences of ASU students by involving them in real-world projects that directly improve the lives of underprivileged people locally and in underdeveloped nations throughout the world. Obeng also is teaching an honors course called Sustainable Energy Applications in the Developing World at the ASU Tempe campus.

His primary areas of expertise include solar energy, bioenergy, and design of sustainable technologies for poverty reduction. He has worked in research and development in the areas of renewable energy, the environment, quality of life, and productive improvements of the poor in Ghana and Africa. He also has worked on projects for increasing energy access in Ghana and Liberia, and has travelled and worked in diverse multicultural environments in rural and urban communities in Africa, Europe, and India.

We caught up with Obeng to ask him about his experience at ASU and Barrett Honors College.

How did you decide to take your sabbatical at Arizona State University/Barrett Honors College?

I got to know GlobalResolve and their interest in international development when Mark Henderson and some ASU faculty and students visited the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, Ghana where I work. While the ASU faculty and students were in Ghana, we discussed development and community impact projects and focused particularly on clean energy technologies. Since then I started reading about the activities of GlobalResolve in the developing world from their website and this made me develop interest in collaborating with them and that led me to apply for sabbatical leave at ASU.

You co-taught EGR371 Best Practices in Humanitarian Engineering with Mark Henderson last fall. What was the focus of that course? How do you define humanitarian engineering?

The focus of the course was to equip students with knowledge and skills that would be applied to improve the quality of life of people living in poor and under-resourced communities that lack the expertise to address day-today development challenges confronting them.

Well, I will define humanitarian engineering as a discipline that equips people with science-based knowledge that can be applied to provide development-focused solutions to improve human conditions and needs.

Regarding the course you are teaching now, HON394 Sustainable Energy Applications in the Developing World, what prototypes are students building in the class this semester?

This course introduces students to sustainable energy sources, technology application, market, and impacts on the poor living in the developing world. It presents concepts and definitions and guides students to understand technologies that promote sustainable energy. Students work in teams and are engaged in hands-on building of prototypes, namely a solar lantern, a solar crop dryer for drying of maize, a biomass cook stove that uses twigs and waste branches, and a biochar pyrolyzer for conversion of farm waste into energy. The learning experience and knowledge gained are utilized in their courses to enhance learning and promote interest in sustainable energy as stipulated in sustainable development goals (SDG 1, 7 & 13). Students work in partnership with rural communities in Ghana to gather field information and gain insight into community development challenges so they can better understand the day-to-day issues on energy poverty, cultural setting and resource constraints.

What are your overall impressions of ASU and Barrett Honors College?

Overall, my impression of ASU and Barrett Honors College is very positive – ASU is a well-resourced and well organized university. There is a lot to learn from ASU and Barrett Honors College in regard to equipment and facilities provided for education and training inside the classroom. Further, the approach to teaching and learning, particularly the project-based approach being used to teach some courses, equips students with hands-on skills and the confidence to innovate and make useful products and create businesses out of them.

What are your impressions of American university students?

I think American university students have better access to solid educational infrastructure that helps them to enjoy the learning culture and environment created by universities. There is a very good relationship between faculty and students and this provides opportunities for students to access faculty members to seek clarification and further understanding of some concepts and issues discussed in class. I also like the fact that American students would like to “make” things as part of their learning experience.

Barrett Honors College is placing more importance on preparing students to be global citizens by expanding access to educational travel and internships that expose students to new cultures, languages, and environments. As Barrett’s first Global Faculty Fellow, what are your thoughts about this?

I think this is an excellent approach to higher education and training. The creation of facilities and provision of opportunities and resources that support exposure of students to different cultures, languages and environment will help them to appreciate diversity in life and nature. Young people are future leaders and therefore should be given the opportunity to meet different people, see the natural surroundings in different countries to understand life issues and values. Educational travels and interns are good instruments that can promote values such as tolerance, respect, appreciation, discipline, more understanding of different contexts and cultures etc. These will all add value to the training of young people to be change-makers and better global citizens.

You are a co-principal investigator on a large United States Agency for International Development Grant with Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other universities. What type of work/research are you doing under this grant and with whom?

The USAID supported program with MIT and other universities is known as the International Development Innovation Network (IDIN). IDIN seeks to create and build a global network of change-makers that enable the design, development and dissemination of innovations that address key development challenges associated with poverty, while building capacity in communities for local innovation and creative problem-solving.

Together with the D-Lab of MIT, we are co-creating solutions that meet the development needs of poor communities in Ghana. This is an international development work with focus on local creative capacity building training and co-development of sustainable technologies including peanut planter, rice thresher, cocoa pod breaker, maize sheller and cassava peeler. We are working with four selected communities (Konongo, Fumesa, Suame Magazine and New Longoro communities) of Ashanti and Brong-Ahafo regions of Ghana.

What is the significance of your middle name Yaw?

Yaw is a Ghanaian name given to males who are born on Thursday. It originated from the Akans as a given name based on the day of the week one is born.

Who is he? Confident and sociable, cheerful and easy-going Yaw is a very endearing person to know: he has a big heart, is good-humoured and not without a certain charisma. An extremely adaptable individual, he quickly feels at ease everywhere he goes and actively seeks the company of others. A chatterbox who loves to communicate, speech comes easily to him and he has almost certainly already mastered the art of persuasion. He is bright, perceptive and observant, and is very good at blending in.

What does he like? As well as fun, frolics and savouring life´s many pleasures, Yaw likes to communicate and needs to be able to express himself. He enjoys group activities, loves humanity and has great sympathy for those who suffer. A very pleasant and sentimental chap: he is gentle, emotional, sensitive and generous. No one is perfect of course and he´s no exception: a disorganized dreamer, punctuality can sometimes be a problem, and he can resist anything except temptation, however force the shoe onto the other foot and he can reveal himself to be quite the green eyed monster. [Source:], (accessed March 2017)






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