“By the age of 9, I had already decided that I wanted to become an astronaut, an engineer, and a doctor like (first black female astronaut) Mae Jemison.” – Freda Yawson, founder of Innovate Ghana speaking about her early childhood aspirations that spurred her on to be the person she is now.
An accomplished B.Sc.E holder in Mechanical Engineering, from the University of Michigan, Ms Yawson speaks of her experience in a field that challenged her, saying “As an undergraduate studying at the University of Michigan, I was one of 3 black girls in a class which had less than 30% women overall. Even though I was a minority, it felt great to be able to know that I could do engineering just like any of the guys as long as I applied myself to it.”
Speaking further on the topic, she goes on to say “The fact that I was one of few women made it even more special. Mechanical engineering at the nation’s #4 ranked school was in itself a feat, and for the first time I was not at the top of my class. It required a re-set in my mentality, I realized that it wasn’t about being smart, because all of us there were smart. It was about how hard you worked.”
Freda, who also holds a Master in International Affairs from the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University, has worked in the automotive industry (with General Motors and Toyota, in the USA), Engineers Without Borders, Columbia University Earth Institute’s Millennium Villages Project, and Blue-Lab Michigan focusing on water purification in the Dominican Republic, Ghana and Honduras.
When asked about her greatest achievement, she mentioned starting the Innovate Ghana Competition.
About the Innovate Ghana Competition
Innovate Ghana Workshop and Design Competition was started in 2013 to encourage Ghanaian students to apply practical engineering knowledge in helping deal with national development issues by focusing on concepts of Design for Development, Engineering, and Entrepreneurship to empower the youth in coming up with creative solutions for social needs.
Innovate Ghana, which functions under GREMKAY International, a company started by her father, Prof. Gregory E Yawson, has exposed over 200 high school and tertiary students to practical problem solving and innovation to date.
To the women who may be entertaining thoughts and ideas, or even fears about STEM, she has this to say “If you are curious about engineering or any other STEM field, find someone who works in that position, ask questions, go and see what they do, and find out how they got there. You can achieve whatever you put your mind to.”
“Africa especially needs people who are curious and interested in applying these skills to our infrastructure needs. If you see something that needs to be fixed, figure out how, don’t wait for someone to do it for you.” – Freda Yawson, Innovate Ghana
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