The U-M early team arrived in Liberia late on Wednesday, 10 August 2016. We are staying near Barnersville junction with one of the L-SWE students. Her family has been super nice these past few days.
Our first full day in Liberia was spent signing people up for the 2016 L-SWE SUCCESS camp. We visited the University of Liberia – Fendall Campus and watched the Engineering Concept Design Competition organized by GEMCESA (Geology, Electrical, Mining, and Civil Engineering Student Association at the University of Liberia) and sponsored by ExxonMobil and E-HELD (Excellence through Higher Education for Liberian Development). It was quite interesting to see the innovative ideas that the four Liberian project teams imagined. Everything from a car made entirely of Liberian-sourced parts to a set of waterways to improve transit to the Liberian interior.
We also visited the site of the 2016 camp, Rick’s Institute. It is a nice facility and we will share more photos during the camp.
The second day in Liberia was a purchasing day. We bought all sorts of supplies for camp. We spent American and Liberian money. Liberian dollars are called Liberty. One USD is anywhere from 80 to 100 LD depending on the exchange rate.
You can buy lots of things in Liberia in the capital that you would find in the States. They have everything from small roadside markets to bigger indoor grocery stores. We even visited a small store that was like a Liberian Costco – they only sold things by the case/carton/box.
On the third day (Saturday, 13 August 2016), hosted a pre-departure meeting at the E-HELD office on Old Road across from the Nigerian Embassy. We discussed expectations for the camp and answered questions.
Today (Sunday, 14 August 2016), the rest of the U-M team arrives. You will hear from them during the next two weeks. We cannot wait to share all of the great things that will be happening at the camp. The women engineers in Liberia are truly incredible. I, for one, cannot wait to meet more of them!
The year is coming to a close here at U of M! We wanted to take the time to look back at some of the great moments we’ve had in GradSWE over the school year, starting with last summer.
Kayaking down the Huron River: What’s the best activity on a hot summer day in Ann Arbor? Grab your swimsuits and head down to Argo Park for a two-hour kayaking excursion down the river! A group of GradSWE members took advantage of a beautiful day in July for some great group bonding, followed by a picnic lunch.
Blueberry Picking: Summer in Michigan is a great time for blueberry picking! Late August saw many of our members heading out to a farm to pick (and eat!) some of the best berries Michigan has to offer.
National SWE Conference in Nashville, TN: Nine of our members attended WE15, where they were able to connect with other GradSWE chapters, learn about the role of women engineers in academia and the workplace, and attend a great career fair! They also took the time to check out the local sites in Nashville and on the road trip down, including Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.
Holiday Party: Our annual holiday party was very well-attended! We built gingerbread houses, listened to classic holiday tunes, and said goodbye to our graduating members.
Cross-Country Skiing: In January, skiers of all skill levels hit the “slopes” (aka the Huron Hills Golf Course) to learn to cross-country ski! After a quick lesson, we set off on the trails through the golf courses, which included some small hills and beautiful scenery. We finished up the day with a picnic lunch in the ski lodge.
Entrepreneurship Series: This semester, GradSWE was lucky to partner with the University of Michigan Center for Entrepreneurship to hold workshops covering a wide range of topics- everything from building your own brand to fighting gender stereotypes in the workplace. The attendees were extremely impressed with the speakers and came away with valuable tips and tools to becoming more successful in her chosen field.
Painting Party: For our February general body meeting, we had a do-it-yourself painting class! Members followed step-by-step instructions to create a garden scene. Every painting was unique, but all were beautiful!
Female Faculty Mixers: These events were held many times throughout the year. Female faculty members joined GradSWE members for lunch to talk about careers in academia and their experiences in industry. These lunches were valuable for all attendees, and we loved hearing the personal stories of female professors!
GradSWE at U of M has had a great past year, and we’re looking forward to an even better summer! If you’re in the area, check out events we’ll be holding to come make new friends, reconnect with old friends, and have a great time with a great group of people! Thanks to everyone that helped make this year a wonderful experience, and have a great summer!
When I first heard about the Center for Entrepreneurship series on Empowering Women Through Entrepreneurship, I assumed it didn’t really fit into my career path. I’m interested in becoming a professor, not heading to Silicon Valley to create a new app. But I decided to go some of the seminars when a mentor told me becoming a professor is like having your own mini startup. So I went and have found the seminars invaluable and inspiring. The speakers have helped me think about all kinds of skills we don’t often have a chance to get formal training in like navigating work relationships, building confidence in my abilities, and even organizing a timeline for my dissertation.
Over the past two weeks there have been two seminars: Building Your Personal Brand and Becoming an Effective Project Manager; led by Rachele Downs, Vice President Entrepreneurial Strategies at Inforum & Inforum Center for Leadership, and Susan Koenig, App Relations Manager at AdAdapted.
Rachele’s main points can be summed up with one of the first quotes of the seminar “own your energy and be memorable.” The key ideas about building your personal brand, according to Rachele, are confidence and preparation. Confidence in who you are, what you want to say, and establishing your network. Preparation in meetings, elevator pitches, the persona you want to present, and maintaining your social media presence. One idea I took away from Rachele’s talk was always have prepared elevator pitches that you can employ at any time 30 sec, 3 min, 10 min, or 30 min. You never know where you can find a connection or, in my case, a new research collaborator.
Susan’s approach to the seminar was more hands on, but just as helpful for professional development. We brainstormed in small groups about how to manage the design of a rocket car, while dealing with a theoretical team member who didn’t respect women. Susan then had suggestions about four different project management methods: Waterfall, Critical Path, Kanban, and Scrum. Her advice was inspire a sense of ownership in your team members, empower the people working for you while also teaching them, and make the scope and details of a project transparent so people are connected to the project as a whole. Two resources that I’ve started using since the workshop are Trello and The Girls Guide to Project Management. I’m looking forward to the next seminar, Promoting and Selling Your Ideas to Non Technical People, and finding new and valuable entrepreneurial skills. I’ve always thought of these concepts being applied in industry, but I plan to use these skills to further my career in academia, too. In the future, I won’t be so quick to dismiss the workshops that teach us how to manage people, money, and our career.
SWE and GradSWE at U of M have started an exciting partnership with the Center for Entrepreneurship (UMCFE). Throughout the semester, we will be holding six workshops covering a wide range of topics – from learning about entrepreneurship to building our own personal brand to becoming an effective project manager. All the workshops are led by talented women from around the university
This past Thursday (March 24th), we held our third workshop, titled “Strategies to Overcome Gender Stereotypes.” This was a great workshop! We first talked about how to recognize gender stereotypes and microaggressions, both in the workplace and in our everyday lives. The presenter, Elizabeth Rohr from UMCFE, explored different types of stereotypes and microaggressions that can make women feel isolated, uncomfortable, and unwelcome in male dominated fields. The entire workshop was highly interactive, and we were able to share personal experiences and brainstorm solutions to problems we face, such as sizeism, sexist language, and assumptions of inferiority, among other topics.
I believe these microaggressions are a rampant problem even in climates that are striving to promote diversity and inclusion. The danger of these microaggressions is the hostile climate it creates for women, and the simple fact is that the perpetrators of the climate are mostly unaware of how they are hurting the women around them. Every woman at this workshop had a story about her current struggle with these issues, and the few men present were mostly surprised by the issues raised. This is why these workshops are vital for women in STEM. We need to find both a sense of community and learn how to effectively communicate to our peers on the real issues we face.
I have personally faced microaggressions with a male professor I briefly worked for. I was forced to communicate through another male professor because my emails were constantly ignored. In meetings I felt undervalued, attacked, and inferior. It was difficult to share these experience when friends would brush off the sexist undertones I felt in these interactions. Going to the UMCFE workshop helped me feel that I am not alone in these struggles, that I am not crazy, that I have a support network of women and men who understand.
Since engineering is a traditionally male-dominated field, many women engineers have faced these types of stereotypes and microagressions. It’s sometimes hard to know what to say or how to deal with it, so I’ve really enjoyed learning about how to empower myself and those around me. UMCFE has done a great job of providing useful information on how we, as female engineers, can realize that we can successfully navigate the engineering field.
GradSWE and SWE are very excited about this partnership, and we’re looking forward to the next workshop. Join us on Thursday, March 31st in the GM Room (Lurie building, 4th floor)for “Building your personal brand”.
Monday, August 27, is a national holiday in Liberia. We took the morning off in observance. In the morning, several of the UM students went to visit the market in Kakata to buy lappas (a term describing printed cloth used to make African clothes, usually sold in “lappas” or 1-yard lengths). Some students opted to lounge for the morning, sleeping, “lecturing” (casual conversation), or crafting SWE printed hairties for the group.
In the afternoon, our second engineering activity of the camp commenced! Sahithya introduced the Delta Design project, an imaginative housing design project set on a different planet. Each Delta Design team had members assigned the role of structural engineer, thermal engineer, architect, and project manager. The roles had complex tasks that they were trained to do for the team in order for each design to be the best. In comparison with the Bottle Rock project, the Delta Design project was intended for the students to work in interdisciplinary teams, where they had to work with and depend on experts outside of their own fields, communicate their results to others with potentially conflicting interests, and trust each other’s recommendations.
Students train according to their roles for the Delta Design Project
After a grueling afternoon of calculations, its was time for….
*Bluffing: Liberian colloqua for walking around while looking good, and knowin’ it. 🙂
Sunday was a day of rest, and a field trip! In the morning, some students went to various places of worship around Kakata, and others stayed in for some welcome R&R. Around 1pm, we piled onto the L-SWE bus— it definitely brought us closer together!— and headed off to see the Bong Mines. Unfortunately, when we got to the mines, we found out they were not providing escorts to enter that day, so instead we drove to find a nearby river to picnic beside.
Our bus driver (a rare woman driver) was a master of navigating turns, steep hills and treacherously uneven roads. We had to empty the bus a few times for it to get up a particularly steep hill. But eventually we got to the river and, as would become the norm, it turned into a photo shoot.
L-SWE Photo Shoot at the River
It was a good day, and a nice way to close out the first week of the SUCCESS camp!
This is our first guest post from L-SWE! The author is Edith Tarplah, a junior student at University of Liberia and President of L-SWE.
People search for miracle in places they feel it might exist, but fail to realize that at the time the miracle they wish is starring them in the face.
Having a group of female engineers coming together despite their diversities in their field of study and in their lives as a person, to organize a camp that will mold minds and lives of undergraduate female engineering students in Liberia is like a long awaited miracle that many have searched for.
It is difficult to be a female student in Liberia, yet alone say an engineering female student. As a student you need series of activities in your school life that will encourage you to continue even though it is difficult to get funding, but instead you are faced with frustrations on a daily basis. These make you go to school because you have to, not because you want to.
Thus having other female engineering students giving up their time to come to Liberia to encourage and promote networking amongst engineering student and professionals, giving students the opportunity of having a one-on-one conversation about their field of studies and how things actually work in the real world is a miracle.
The big question is “Will students realize that their miracle is here? Or will they keep searching?”
Personally my journey of realizing my miracle started a few months ago when the UM graduate students came to Liberia for two weeks to build the foundation for the L-SWE SUCCESS camp. They organized a professional interactive dinner for engineering students and professionals which was a success. I got acquainted with many engineering professionals because of that dinner, who are people that I contact on a regularly to seek professional advice.
The organizers of the L-SWE success camp have made it a point to help students recognize opportunities and show them how to make maximum use of it. This is done through sessions and social activities amongst the students and supervisors. It is because of these sessions I got to know the difference between getting masters and a PhD ( something so common that one will laugh if they come to hear that a fourth year university student cannot tell the difference). It might be funny, but it is the truth. Through these sessions I have also learned that the root cause of the educational hazards in Liberia is the lack of funding. Due to the low funding, the Ministry of Education has to lobby around for funds before getting some of their projects implemented, which causes delay in the school system leading to a sub-standard curriculum.
Now that I know the root cause, I see and explain things differently.
The loads of information I’m gaining in this camp, gives me a whole new level of confidence to continue my studies and even aim for a higher goal. It has also helped me learn how to value myself and have a open mind about things that may come my way.
Thus L-SWE SUCCESS camp is my miracle I searched for. What is yours?
Today was a day dedicated to completing our first engineering activity! Each of the teams were build their own bottle rocket, and compete against other groups to see whose design was the best. The theme of the weekend is “working together”, to focus attention on group dynamics and effective teamwork in engineering.
At 9am, we setup the materials for bottle rockets. After breakfast, all the teams came in to grab their materials and get to work. After about an hour of prepping, we took a break to welcome our first guest speaker of the camp.
Zayzay Miller is the Training Manager of Peace Corps Liberia. His office trains new Peace Corp volunteers, coordinates volunteer assignments, and manages the Peace Corp properties. He came to talk to the L-SWE women, however, about his previous work as a volunteer in the Liberian Youth Corps. He shared his experience as one of the first cohort of Youth Corps members, which functions similar to AmeriCorp in the US, where young people who are college graduates commit 2 years to serve in communities in need. Zayzay encouraged students to think about alternative career paths after graduating from college, since the employment situation in Liberia is rather bleak and it could be difficult to get jobs straight out of school with no prior work experience.
It was interesting to hear about the Peace Corps work, and the national volunteer service that it inspired. Most of the us had no idea what the Youth Corps were before the talk, and it seemed like it could be a great opportunity for people to gain practical skills in engineering, and also in community organizing around engineering projects.
After Zayzay’s talk, and a Q&A, the bottle rocket building resumed. The goal for the teams were to get a rocket that spent the longest time in the air between launch and hitting the ground. Teams worked diligently all afternoon, just barely taking a break for lunch.
Since we could only use the limited materials the UM team had brought in our luggage, the teams had to be conservative about the materials they used for their rockets. It was quite an ordeal actually to get the right bottles for the rockets– we had to find sodas in plastic bottles in the market that were roughly the right shape and size for a rocket. The logistics team was planned ahead, and we recycled the bottles from the drinks provided at orientation to use for the rockets. However, it was a constant battle with the hyper-efficient cleaning staff at the camp to keep the bottles from getting thrown out. Sahithya tried valiantly to distinguish the stash of empty bottles from other trash in the room, but on Friday morning we were bested by an early morning trash sweeper. After the first batch of bottles were thrown out, we bought more Coke and Fanta bottles, but the Fantas turned out to be too round at the top once teams started crafting their rockets. So we had to go out and get Coke and Sprites. Eventually, each team had enough materials to make two rockets, either to test two different designs or to use as a prototype and a competition model.
The night before, the students had eagerly looked up Youtube videos of bottle rockets to get an idea about what they trying to do. From there, ingenuity abounded. Teams got to test launch their rockets later in the afternoon, and even though it was raining, the teams stayed outside testing and tweaking their models for hours. Most of the teams got good launches and a strong vertical start, but all the teams struggled to get their rocket’s parachute to deploy. Since getting the parachute to deploy would greatly increase their time in the air, the teams worked really hard to refine their designs to get that parachute done. Next week, we’ll do the competition, and we’ll see who’s design works the best!
On Flag Day, which is Liberia’s independence day celebration, we ended the day with old fashioned American s’mores. Earlier we had a traditional dish of rice and peanut butter soup, and the s’mores were a sweet end to a fun day. (Look for our Day 6 post soon!) The s’mores were a big hit, although 4 family packs of chocolate bars disappeared in short order, even before the fire was hot! Edith, one of the L-SWE founders and camp committee members decided to try a plain marshmallow as a “cultural experience” after the s’mores were finished.