GradSWE Overseas, Liberia

L-SWE SUCCESS 2016: Early Team Report

Greetings from Liberia!

The U-M early team arrived in Liberia late on Wednesday, 10 August 2016. GarnersvilleWe 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!

GradSWE Overseas, Liberia

L-SWE SUCCESS Day 5: Sunday Bluffing

*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.

photo collage
L-SWE on the road from Bong Mines

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!

women holding index cards
GradSWE Overseas, Liberia

LSWE SUCCESS – Day 2: Your Story

After meeting all of the students on Wednesday, we started off the camp workshops on Thursday. The format for each day is to have a morning session from 9 AM to 1 PM and an afternoon session from 2 PM to 5:30 PM. Don’t worry, we make sure to take plenty of breaks.

Know Yourself
The first few days of the camp is broadly classified under the theme “Know Yourself.” The idea is that it is hard to be an effective leader when you do not know your own potential. Each and every person has a distinct personality and leadership style. We explored the idea of preferences using three tools – Myers-Briggs Type Index, True Colors, and an adapted version of the Competing Values Framework.

women holding index cards
L-SWE students exchange cards describing their working styles

MBTI
We played a game to understand our preferences for the four MBTI categories. For each category we read the description of each type and had the students move into groups that were of the type. Then, each group was asked a question. Since similar thoughts reinforce each other it made it easy to tell where one generally belonged. We asked these questions:
1. You just won a cash prize from school of a sizable amount. How do you celebrate?
– Extraversion Goup: They wanted to spend the money on their community, save it or establish scholarships for other students.
– Intraversion Group: They wanted to help their families, church, or charity.
2. We have this strange yellow object. What is it? What do you do with it?
– Sensing Group: “It’s yellow silly putty.”
– Intuition Group: “Is it modeling clay? Can we make something with it?”
3. You are coaching a kickball team and they just made it into the Liberian championship. But, you can only take 11 of your 15 players to compete. Who gets to go?
– Feeling Group: “Let’s take the best players. The ones who are the most dedicated to the team! We can raise money for the others to come spectate.”
– Thinking Group: “Let’s take the best players. The ones who are thr most skilled and will ensure our victory.”
4. Plan a trip to Robertsport (a popular vacation area). What do you do?
– Judging Group: “Let’s organize a committee and divide up tasks.”
– Perceiving Group: “We’ll figure it out when we get there.”

The group had a great discussion about the different preferences. We explored how your preferences change over time and by which situation you are in.

We followed up with True Colors and CVF and showed how the three models relate. CVF looked into how organizations can have personalities/preferences too.

two women look at cards
Allisandra and Urelyn compare and exchange Working Styles cards to create their complete deck

Personal Statements
We followed up with an afternoon session about personal stories of leadership and engineering. Using the generative interview technique, students told stories about times they had success on an engineering team or other group project. Their partner took notes on the discussion and remarked on what stood out to them. The advantage of generative interviewing is that you can work through a story easily with lots of detail.

The stories in the generative interviews form the basis for writing personal statements. These statements will be used to apply for grad school, scholarships, or jobs.

The Future of Liberia
The last activity of the day was a TED talk from Leymah Gbowee about how to “unlock the intelligence, passion, greatness of girls“. In her TED talk video she explains her experience trying to help young girls succeed. She challenges her audience to think about the potential available in girls around the world just waiting to be unlocked.

“Will you journey with me to help that girl, be it an African girl or an American girl or a Japanese girl, fulfill her wish, fulfill her dream, achieve that dream? All they’re asking us to do is create that space to unlock the intelligence, unlock the passion, unlock all of the great things that they hold within themselves. Let’s journey together.”

This camp is part of that journey to create space where women can succeed. These women are the future of Liberia.

LSWE Lappa
GradSWE Overseas, Liberia

L-SWE SUCCESS Day 1: Orientation

images of LSWE swagOn Wednesday, we welcomed the Liberian students to the camp. They came from across Monrovia and the surrounding areas, and all are undergraduates at the University of Liberia, Stella Maris University, and St. Clements University College.

L-SWE swag on a table

As we waited for them to arrive, the UM team unpacked our materials and setup the classroom where we would be conducting most of the seminars and activities. A few of the Liberian members of the Logistics team, along with the undergraduate SWE members took a trip to the market to gather some last additional materials for an engineering activity later in the week.

The students came in two waves, with one bus (shepherded by “Boss Lady” Edith) arriving in the morning just before lunch, and the second arriving just before dinner. To get to know each other and start the camp off right, we spent the afternoon playing games to learn each other’s names and share a little bit of culture.

lswe participants standing under the flags L-SWE SUCCESS at the Peace Corp Training Center in Kakata, Liberia

LSWE participants playing Liberian games

lswe participants watching a game

LSWE participants playing cards

My favorite, was Lappa: similar to dodgeball, but instead of only concentrating on avoiding the ball you also have to match up and straighten a pile of shoes. When you get hit, you tag in another person from your team, relay style, and they continue the straightening effort. When you finish straightening, you count the shoes (all of them, before the other team interrupts you by throwing the ball). When you run out of players to tag in, the round is over and the teams switch places.   

After an afternoon of games, we started orientation in the evening. After introducing the camp and its purpose, every planning team gave a short presentation about their part of camp logistics. Some students opted to join a couple of the planning teams to continue helping out with camp throughout the next couple weeks. It looks like it will be a great few weeks!

group photo on first day of SUCCESS camp
Yay for the first day!

 PS: Here’s where we are…

map of Kakata, Liberia, West Africa

GradSWE Overseas, Liberia

The Society of Women Engineers of Liberia

One of biggest revelations this week was that there exists a Society of Women Engineers of Liberia (SWEL). They are a registered Liberian non-profit organization and operate as a subset of the Engineering Society of Liberia. Established in 2013, they are dedicated to supporting women in engineering in Liberia and have collegiate members from vocational schools and universities, and professionals.

We learned about their organization from both a Stella Maris Polytechnic student and a University of Liberia faculty member. To our suprise and excitement, they arranged a cook-out for us and the L-SWE women to meet them on Satuday. This was their first major event since the Ebola Crisis. We were thrilled to meet them. It turns out that although SWEL and L-SWE both started in 2013, neither knew about the existence of the other.

So, on Saturday, we loaded up our van with us and 10 L-SWE women and drove to the cook-out. It was held at Tabitha’s Renaissance, Enginering & Design off of Roberts International Airport Highway. The SWEL women welcomed us with open arms. The food was great too. We had Liberian rice, pepper sauce, fried chicken, fried beef, grilled fish, fish sandwiches, and fried plantains. Super delicious! They even served South African cider, Savanna, and other beverages. Not knowing that there would be so much food, we brought juice and cookies to share.

The women of SWEL are incredible. They are passionate about helping Liberia move forward. Many of these women were from Liberia, left to pursue higher education abroad (China, Ghana, Australia, etc.), but came back to improve Liberia. They are superb role models for the women of L-SWE and Liberia.

The SWEL organization is growing and is looking to become a voice on the international stage. We look forward to helping them get connected with the larger Society of Women Engineers organization. We invited the women of SWEL to our networking dinner tonight and cannot wait to get know them more.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.