(Summer 2014) Tunde Alawode, G
Tunde (Babatunde) Alawode (G, Mechanical Engineering)
Tunde spent his summer in Lagos, Nigeria working to improve the learning experiences of students at his alma mater university. He established a D-lab like class (focused on energy and water) for late high school and early undergraduate students. The goal of the project was to work with the participants to creatively solve energy and water problems in their communities by using local resources. A few days and some training later, the students had formed teams that came up with six innovative projects that will serve their communities.
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WEEK 1: Love at First Sight
So you have an overview of what we are trying to do. The team has been working hard to plan the program over the past couple of months. Oh, yes, I should introduce us :). We are a team of five; two current MIT Mechanical Engineering grad students (Nwike and I), one MIT ’13 grad (Joy), one Harvard ’12 grad (Mureji) and an MIT parent (Mrs Attah, who is our community partner). Each person has added so much to the team, that I wonder how Nwike and I could have thought to pull this off by ourselves when we had the idea!
Anyways, so far, we have created the website (impactlabs.mit.edu), worked in D-lab to design and build some devices and have documented them online, came up with a preliminary schedule, bought some tools and advertised the program through in-person school outreaches by Mrs Attah. We are working with the University of Lagos through a lecturer in the Mechanical Engineering department, Dr Ola Kamiyo, who is helping us secure spaces and working with the management of the university to make the program go smoothly. He also asked the University of Lagos Engineering Society, the umbrella body of engineering students in the school to assist us in setting up the program.
To get everything ready before the program, I am travelling to Lagos four weeks before it starts. My task in my first week is to make sure everything is in place: the spaces we are to use is checked to be adequate, buy materials and fabricate necessary equipment, etc. So I left Boston on the 15th of July and arrived Lagos on the evening of the 16th. I had practiced for the jet lag I might face by trying to get accustomed to Lagos time while in Boston so quickly got accustomed to Lagos in a short time.
On Friday, I set out to get to the University of Lagos to meet Dr Kamiyo in the company of Mrs Attah. Dr Kamiyo showed us the room we are to use for the classes, the Computer Hardware Laboratory. It is just about perfect for the number of students we had, was air-conditioned and pretty neat. Also, it was close to the entrance to the Faculty of Engineering, so most of the students should be able to find it pretty easily. We fell in love with this space!
Next, he took us to where we would have the hands-on sessions, the Fitting Workshop. It was a simple room with several metal tables and vices. It would surely work for us! The clincher here was that there is a direct connection between the class and the lab! We couldn’t have asked for a better space!
When we made the program public for the first time, someone from Nokia Nigeria reached out to us about a potential sponsorship. Since Nokia was acquired by Microsoft, its CSR initiatives have been moving more and more towards education. They found our project attractive and I spent part of Saturday in a discussion with one of the ’Nokia ambassadors’ to discuss the specifics. The specifics will be hashed out in the coming weeks, but the sponsorship will most probably be in the form of Nokia phones to be given out as prizes. Sure the students would love this!
Next week, we do some more planning.
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WEEK 2: People, People, People
The application deadline for the students (25th July) was fast approaching! We spent most of the week worrying about whether we would have enough student enrollments, especially from secondary school and female students. We had exhausted all the channels that we knew. Luckily, a friend, Chika Ugboh, also runs a programme for secondary school students and she introduced us to their recruiting partner at Schlumberger Nigeria, Valerie. This week, Valerie helped us reach out to a female secondary school and got many applications.
We thought it would be best to have inspirational sessions in-between the hands-on classes. We wanted to bring people who could be role models to the students in what ImpactLabs was trying to teach; having a passion for solving local problems using local solutions. We reached out to WeCyclers, an MIT start-up helping to combat waste and recycling problems. Central to their work is a bicycle modification done at D-lab that enables waste collection in rural areas. Their impressive business model and management principles may inspire these students to come up with sustainable ways to help their communities. We also got in touch with Jide Oshinkanlu, an independent designer who designs and fabricates customised machines and parts for companies, creating more-or-less indigenous machines for our needs. Omowunmi Afolabi, a volunteer who works with young mothers in rural communities will have several stories to tell about how much impact individuals can have on others’ lives. Finally, we reached out to MIT and Harvard alumni who would be in Lagos during the program to discuss business and impact.
Overall, the week was quite successful! Next week, we will work on getting materials and reviewing applications.
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WEEK 3: Materials and meetings
It is only three weeks to the program! We crank up on buying materials we might need for the project. I tried to do this myself and realised that there would be too many vendors to work with, and since I didnt know the area as much as I thought, it would be quite time consuming for me to buy everything. So I reached out to my friend and classmate who lived in the area. Turns out he had some time to help procure the materials! Voila, problem solved!
This week, Mrs Attah planned some meetings with potential donors. We hadn’t raised as much money as we needed for the project. She tried to arrange meetings with officials of some companies. We will go see them next week.
Remember I said we were worried about not having the right number of applications? Well, it turns out we didnt need to worry. We ended having up having 58 complete applications, more than enough to choose 20 from. Each one of us ranked the applications (Mrs Attah abstained as she didnt want to be biased in favour of some of the students she personally knows). We had such an interesting discussion that weekend about the hilarious, impressive or outright silliness of some applications that our regular 1hr meeting went to almost 2hrs! When the applications were ranked and we each debated our methodologies, it was straightforward placing students in the accepted or wait-list buckets.
Next week, we will finalise our work on the schedule, reach out to the accepted students, finish buying materials, seek more funding and print shirts and souvenirs for the program.
WEEK 4: Final Prep!
Most of the week was spent working on firming up the schedule and printing a booklet for the program (thanks Mureji!). Going back and forth with the printer guy over design and cost was so tasking. Phew! Anyways, the beautiful product we had by Wednesday was well worth the trouble. See Summer Workshop 2014-3.
Mureji arrived on Sunday and we spent most of the evening making slides for the first day of the program and doing a mock run-through of what we planned to do.
WEEK 5: It’s here!
We (Mureji and I) were a bit scared but quickly got used to teaching and working with the students. We have a great group of students who are mostly enthusiastic about what we were presenting. We tried to keep the logistics moving as smoothly as possible.
We had 22 students, plus one really young boy who randomly sat in (if he comes back tmrw, we’ll need to keep him out of the practical sessions for safety reasons).
Four of the registered participants did not attend, and we reached out to them to follow up. If we do not hear from them this evening, we will remove them from the list (this actually works better given the number of materials that we have). One of the waitlisted participants showed up in person and asked to be allowed to attend. Based on the number of spots available, we will allow 3 people from the waitlist to join tomorrow. Tomorrow is the last day that we’ll allow anyone to join.
The first part of the day went quite well. The icebreaker was very useful and definitely served its purpose- they were quite shy and tense until that point!
Today we covered:
-the introductory session covering the mission of ImpactLabs
-background about D-Lab
-various examples of innovation for development
-intro to energy and background on the construction of the corn sheller (over lunch, they came up with several creative alternative design ideas such as a rotary crankshaft, a pedal-powered grating system, a system in which the circumference of the barrel can be varied, and the wood/nails design). They also had ideas about alternative material options such as tomato tins and high-density polymers.
We tried to incorporate group work and active participation (e.g., speaking aloud, writing solutions on the board) wherever possible, and this seemed to contribute to making students comfortable in the atmosphere. I think students were more comfortable with the sessions that had some structure (as opposed to open/brainstorming time), so we will try to build this in to the next few days. We’ll have to be very thoughtful about how we approach the structure of next week…we want to keep the pace/energy up while giving them plenty of time to work.
As the morning progressed, some clear leaders emerged…these students were very comfortable with volunteering and answering questions. We will take this into account when we do draft group assignments in a couple of hours.
This got off to a tricky start, as there was some delay in the arrival of building materials. We are trying to coordinate purchase of materials at least two days ahead of time to prevent this from happening again. For the first 50 min of the 90-minute session, we did a safety orientation and general introduction to the tools. We switched over to the corn sheller prototyping activity once the materials arrived. Despite only having about 45 minutes, each group came up with at least a partial design. One group built the wood-and-nails prototype that students at D-lab came up with, while another group tried to build a grating system consisting of a block of wood with a rough surface. We will give them some time to wrap these up tomorrow, and they will test them with roasted corn.
1. Lunch was amazing, thanks to Mrs. Attah and her driver J. Also, in line with the current Nigerian sanitation craze, we are trying to promote a safe and healthy learning environment, with plenty of hand sanitizer and hand-washing encouraged before meals and after labs.
2. While we did not request formal feedback, we spoke with one of the students afterwards, and she mentioned that she really enjoyed the lab session since she had not been exposed to these types of tools before. She also enjoyed the Kelvin Doe video and interactive sessions. We will try to collect additional reactions and suggestions as we move forward
3. Finally, I’ll share one of the insightful questions/comments that came up throughout the day (we will need to catalogue these more formally at some point):
After we shared examples of local innovators, one student raised a question about whether users would be interested in versions of products that appear to be “low-cost” (read: cheap) when there are more popular versions available. There was a discussion of whether there’s a class element to which type of device one should be using (e.g. you go for the D-lab version of a product if you can’t afford the real one). We countered by saying that the real challenge we face is creating products that are BOTH sustainable for mass production and compatible with the functional and aesthetic needs of users. However, I suspect this is a theme that will continue to appear over the course of the two weeks.
Day 2 felt a *lot* more successful than Day 1, though we had some hiccups. And gosh, we felt far less stressed! Maybe the help we got from Joy over the course of the previous night gave us time to be really prepared for what we were to do that day. (Thanks Joy!)
Week one is more than halfway over! 🙂
This morning, we covered biogas digesters. Over the course of two lab sessions, we finished the solar water heater and started building the bag biogas digester.
We had an INCREDIBLY inspiring talk from Omowunmi Afolabi…she weaved the mission of ImpactLabs into her talk and shared with the students her background and the factors she’s found to be important to success. We videotaped the last 40 minutes or so of it and will share her slides and contact info with participants.
Finally, we assigned project groups and had a brief initial brainstorming session. We divided the groups according to sex, class level, and the mix of personalities that we’ve witnessed over the past few days (e.g. bold, shy, overbearing, etc.).
The groups provided varying levels of detail in their list of potential problems to solve. We found Group 2 particularly full of excellent initial ideas.
Tomorrow, we will try to guide them towards a more uniform point. We will also cover the charcoal briquetting demonstration and do a session on career paths. The content for the career session will be guided by a brief questionnaire that everyone filled out on Tuesday. The answers were quite varied and telling…see one that particularly resonated with me below:
[from an undergrad who wants to do AI/robotics]: “I want to know if there is any point in pursuing as specialized of a career as AI with the purpose of making Nigeria a better place. I want to know if Nigeria is ready for it.”
-this is the kind of choice that students should not have to make! Sigh
Others asked about tips for applying to school and advise for how to choose majors or fields, among other things.
Mureji had to leave in the morning for some personal errand, so we moved the schedule around a bit to accommodate that. The building session came in the morning (we finished painting the solar water heater units and finished building the biogas digesters). In the late morning, the students came together in their groups to finalise their project selection, propose a budget and figure out where to purchase materials. The maximum budget is N5000 ($31.25) for each of the four teams. The team started blogging about their projects:
Dynamic Impact: Ice-based air conditioner http://thedynamicimpact.wordpress.com/
Mercury: Water level detector, and desalinator http://firstimpact.wordpress.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/firstimpactgroup
7 days down, 3 to go, still fired up and ready to . . . . . sleep! 😀
The first event of the day was a quick review of project status from the different team leaders, followed by the long awaited public speaking/elevator sales session. This was probably the most entertaining event we’ve had since the program started. Each student got the opportunity to speak on a random prompt and afterwards got feedback from the judges and the rest of the class. Some were hilarious, some downright concise, but most were really fun, so much so that we forgot we had planned a 30 min lab session for the morning. The students had to randomly select topics such as “Yellow is better than green”, “If I were in charge of ImpactLabs lunches”, “How to be a slacker”, “This is how to sell Amala and Ewedu to a European”, etc. They had 2minutes to prepare and 2minutes to deliver a speech.
Then we had Dapo (the speaker of the day) – who doubled as one of the pitches judges – share his story with the class, which turned out great. During the lunch break that followed, we had an impromptu birthday celebration for Mrs Attah, as the students welcomed her with a ‘rousing’ rendition of the famous happy birthday song.
For the afternoon session, all the teams went over to the lab to continue work on their respective projects. And as anticipated, new ideas kept popping up from each team and we were barely able to keep them focused on their original ideas. The teams made some progress, but still have work to do to finish their prototypes.
Tomorrow, besides the speaker session, the entire day would be spent building and finishing up prototypes. We might be meeting with a CSR executive at Mobil Today to talk about collaborating with them for the next ‘Impact Labs episode’.
The class celebrated Mrs Attah’s birthday today, with singing and photos and videos and a delicious cake, which quickly disappeared thanks to 22 kids with healthy appetites (and of course not discounting the remarkable contribution from one former unilag, current MIT MechE PhD you-know-who student).
As you can imagine, we’ve all got our eyes on Friday, – classes are over, we had the last speaker over today (Jide, who talked about his experience with computer aided design), and the teams spent the rest of the day working on their devices. Everybody was in some state of excitement, and all the teams did indeed have their fair share of frustrating and hurrah moments.
About the Hurrah moments, two of the teams got their devices working. Jubilation and singing and some tap-dancing accompanied the successful tests of their devices. The other two teams are closer to their goals and we look forward to their own hurrahs tomorrow.
Dr Kamiyo, who’s been very helpful to us, came around the lab to see the students working, and left very impressed. I think the fever is catching because several people, both staff and students, dropped by the lab to see what was going on. That for us is a very good sign.
The teams also started to prepare their final presentations and we would be having a mock presentation session tomorrow (Thursday) in the afternoon. The schedule for Friday is ready, as well as the design for the certificate we’ll be giving the students for participating in the program.
The real countdown begins . . .
The teams spent most of the day on their projects. The ones that had tested their devices decided to prettify them, and those that hadn’t kept working. One of the teams, Mercury, has had its main project in limbo as the pivotal members of the group went incommunicado for just over a day, so we advised them to have a backup plan. The rest of the team then worked on completing a solar desalinator.
They spent lunch time working on their slides, and then presented a mock version of the Friday presentation and we gave feedback. They then went back to the lab to try to finish and get ready for the big day!
Gosh, we are here! The last day of ImpactLabs Summer Workshop 2014!!!!!!!
As you may have guessed, we invited everyone in Lagos to the showcase! Just kidding, but we did invite a loooot of people. In fact, one of the private universities in a neighbouring state sent a delegation consisting of several lecturers and school administrators to the event. Most of the parents of the students, representatives from companies in Nigeria (notably ExxonMobil) and some print journalists came to the event.
We started off with a presentation from Nwike about what ImpactLabs is and what we were trying to achieve. Next, Mureji gave a summary of what we did in the previous two weeks. Then the students came to give their presentations and get questions from the audience. Gosh, we was so impressed! At some point, I actually almost cried. To see what we have worked on for the past two weeks produce something this beautiful was overwhelming. The students explained why their projects were important (they objectively are), explained what they did (in only three days!) and discussed how they would take their ideas forward. Everyone was super impressed!
Next, I gave a speech about where we thought the future of ImpactLabs was. We had decided while reflecting during the week that we did not need to go to any other country (that was previously the thought). ImpactLabs could and should establish itself in Nigeria and drive the process of challenging youths to be creators rather than consumers of technology. We also discussed how we planned to do this: run annual, bigger ImpactLabs sessions, work with other organisations to get students building and inventing things (we have arranged a meeting with the leader of GE Innovation Labs for next week), help build more innovations spaces for students and the general population to use and finally, drive collaboration between top universities in the world and talented people in Nigeria.
Finally, we called out each student to get their certificates and then took group photographs. Pictures will be uploaded as soon as I have them.
The program has been a resounding success and several lessons have been learnt. We look forward to sharing these with the PSC at the next leadership council meeting. Our sincere thanks go to our funding and logistics partners: