I’m a Ghanaian- American and while my parents came from Ghana, I was born and raised in the Bronx. I went to Democracy Prep High School in Harlem. When I was younger I had no idea what I would grow up to be. Coming from an African household, it seemed my options were either to become a doctor or a lawyer. Everything else was too risky.
I had engineering on my mind because I watched this anime called Full Metal Alchemist. I even wrote my college application essay on this! I thought it was risky, but my counselor thought it was creative. The idea in Full Metal Alchemist is people have cool metal-like arms which are prosthetics. The setting is in a world where it seems those prosthetics were inexpensive, as if almost anyone could access them. Just like how common cars are to us in our world. I wanted to live in a world where prosthetics of that caliber were available to everyone. So this show really inspired me to pursue becoming an engineer.
My college counselor, Mr. Yang, really encouraged me to learn about different experiences and opportunities. He told me about a number of colleges that would further my science interests He also told me about the Hk Maker Lab program with HYPOTHEkids, Harlem Biospace, and Columbia University.Hk Maker Lab broadened my eyes to the world and field of biomedical engineering.
With Hk Maker Lab, my team and I focused our project on trying to create an inexpensive water filter since the prevalence of water borne diseases in the world is a huge issue. We tried to make use of UV filtration through UV rays, but that didn’t really work out because we were trying to use an actual lightbulb but it was difficult to find the right bulb. We were trying to find an LED form but we came to realize that was not available to us as high school students. Likewise, we didn’t know how to make UV bulbs. So instead we created a model for this bulb and water filter.
Most of the program was spent doing research on the computer or doing experiments in the lab. In order to use UV filtrations, you have to first get rid of the big particles like dirt. So this was a whole process – we had a bunch of water spills so it was messy at times. By the end of the summer I realized we were standing on shaky ground since we did not have an actual prototype, but just a model of what it could become. I realized I really had to sell our model during our research presentation. I just wanted to make sure that when I presented, it would be my best self and best presentation. So I just focused on this goal and sharing the research we had done so far.
Dr. Kyle, the instructor of Hk Maker Lab program, was impressed by how much work and effort I put into the program. He even wrote a teacher’s recommendation for me for my college application. He also connected me with Christine Kovich, the co-founder of Harlem Biospace and HYOPTHEkids, Ms. Kovich has been so helpful in life. She introduced me to opportunities to speak to younger students in the NYC Science Research Mentoring Consortium. She introduced me to another science program that I worked in last year during my first year of college. It was really beneficial to get that professional experience.
My experience with Hk Maker Lab also prepared me for life after high school. I knew the lab experience I was getting high school was nowhere in comparison to what I would experience at the college level. So the program introduced me to this. The other element the program prepared me for was building relationships with people who were different than me. The people I met through Hk Maker Lab were really interesting. Up until high school, I went to schools or lived in neighborhoods where Black or Latino students were the majority. This was the first time I met people from different backgrounds and different high schools. It was fun hanging out with them. Sometimes I would even play soccer with Arif and his friends which was fun.
Being part of the Consortium is a great opportunity to find people with similar interests and passions for science as your own. It is a friendly environment so it is easy to talk with one another. You also get free tickets to the museum so that’s pretty cool! In a way the Consortium prepares young people for this similar experience in college which is a great thing.
I’m now a rising college sophomore at Emory University. I’m currently undeclared for a major, but I am considering the pre-dentistry track. In all honesty though, I’m still thinking about biomedical engineering. Those are the main two interests of mine. I don’t know what the future holds. It could be anything right now. Whatever it ends up being though, it’s going to follow science heavily no matter what.
I want the younger generation to know that science is cool. What is most important in life is to be passionate. If you find something you like, be passionate about it. I know a lot of times when I personally was pursuing my passions for science, I had people on the sidelines saying “Man, you’re corny for that.” I would just say “Nah, I’m okay.” I didn’t let that or anyone stop me from being myself and pursuing my passion for science. So my advice to everyone is to ignore doubters. Surround yourself with positive people, because if you surround yourself with negative people you’ll end up giving up on your passions and yourself.