Gillian Minnehan, Sophomore Engineering Student, SWE at UM
Today we woke to the pitter patter of rain against the roof of our apartment: the first Liberian rainstorm of the trip. Courtney, Olivia, and I did our morning core exercises (nobody wanted to go for a run in the rain) before showering and making our way to the dining hall for a light breakfast of hard boiled eggs and cinnamon rolls.
We began the third day of camp with Lauren’s presentation on resumes and how to present using PowerPoint. Lauren is by far the most animated person of the UM students, and she did not disappoint today during her presentation. She happily demonstrated poor examples of presenting with a level of hilarity that rarely seen during dreaded PowerPoint presentations. The students were laughing and enjoying themselves despite a long morning of slides.
Noon rolled around, and we ambled to the dining hall to fill up on Charlotte’s (our caterer) staple: piles of rice and well-seasoned, fried chicken and fish. We ate quickly and headed back earlier than usual so that we could prep the room and charge our computers in anticipation of our afternoon guest speaker. Many of the students showed up early, as we requested, so our speaker wouldn’t be waiting on us. Turns out he didn’t come right at 1:30pm so in the meantime, we participated in a team building activity. We broke into teams of 4-5 people and gathered our supplies: 20 pieces of spaghetti, a yard of tape, a yard of string, and one marshmallow. The goal: create the tallest free-standing structure that can support a marshmallow with the given supplies. I have done this activity back home a few times, as have the other UM students, but the Liberian students were in for a new experience. Somehow, all the groups ended up producing the same teepee-like structure. Arguments and laughter filled the air, and increased as Chris called out the passing minutes. My team practically gave up part-way through when we realized we needed a base for our structure, but we didn’t have enough spaghetti or time left to fix our mistake. Before we knew it – time was up! A chaotic round of yells and laughter immediately followed; all the teams except one had failed to keep the marshmallow aloft.
While we were working on our marshmallow activity, our guest speaker, Augustus Gonanue, the Executive Director of the Rural and Renewable Energy Agency (RREA), arrived. As soon as we finished cleaning up the smushed marshmallows and broken spaghetti, all eyes turned to the gentleman on stage. Augustus introduced himself and immediately thanked Melinda for inviting him back to his alma mater. Soon enough, he jumped into the main topic of his speech: the role that renewable energy has and will have in Liberia.
Hearing from someone currently in the middle of the struggle towards addressing Liberia’s energy concerns was an incredible opportunity for the students considering that the renewable energy case study that will make up the majority of camp time next week. I am really excited to see what the teams come up with between now and our final presentations next Thursday. Energy is a major problem in Liberia, like many countries, including the US. If these young, motivated, bright female engineers recognize and understand the energy problem in Liberia, and additionally research and develop a solution to it, they will already be forward-thinkers in their field. It is one thing to look around and identify a problem in your community and country; it is a whole other thing to take the time and energy (pun intended) to identify a solution. The students asked tons of thoughtful questions once Augustus finished his talk. After the last student was satisfied with his response to her question, Augustus bid us goodbye.
In the evening sunset was beautiful – brilliant oranges and pinks shining behind some straggling rain clouds. The night ended with a collaborative effort by the entire UM team to prep materials and ideas for the next day’s activities.