Friday March 2, 2018

'Ghana Guys' Build Cultural Connections Through ETHOS

By Adrienne Zandvoort '19 and Natalie O'Brien '19

Each fall, Engineers in Technical Humanitarian Opportunities of Service Learning (ETHOS) students showcase their work to engineering faculty, staff and fellow program participants, emphasizing the intercultural applications of their learning.
The ETHOS experience is unlike other study abroad programs because of its technology focus. By bringing their prior engineering knowledge to a developing country and adapting to local needs and resources, future engineers have the ability to work with communities by developing appropriate technology or conducting research. Their contributions are unique opportunities to contribute alongside their host organizations, leaving both changed for the experience.
“The Ghana Guys,” as they cleverly titled themselves, participated in the summer 2017 immersion program. Better known as Tom Tappel and Mark Rasmussen, the pair assisted at the Ashesi University College in Accra, Ghana, where they taught classes that included circuitry, materials and a computer design program known as SolidWorks. Tappel will graduate with a degree in electrical engineering, and Rasmussen will graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering in May.
The Ghana Guys built intercultural connections while working on improving Ghana’s land security issue. The young engineers explained how land ownership in Ghana can become confusing as different landowners can sell the same land multiple times. This results in competing claims to the land and to the buildings being constructed. As a result, more than 70,000 lawsuits have been filed in Ghana.
Tappel and Rasmussen began developing a solar-powered wireless sensor network using a GPS and accelerometer to detect trespassers and a Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) module to communicate alerts to the system owner’s cellphone.
Surprisingly, cell phone adoption in Ghana is a growing phenomenon where people have better access to phones than electricity as a whole. This developing technology has sparked changes in communication throughout the country as well as in industries such as banking.
“I saw Ghana as a place for opportunity that many people have not. Although the experience wasn’t your traditional immersion, usually more focused on on-the-fly engineering work with the tools at hand, we were still able to challenge ourselves to live in a different culture, work on projects that challenged us and connect with people we met,” said Tappel.
They discussed how their perceptions about Africa changed after they spent their summer there. The pair’s expectations about Africa and Ghana were quickly replaced by a different reality. Ghana has more developed infrastructure and a larger population than they had anticipated. Other students at Asheshi University frequently asked the pair what America was like, based off their knowledge of what they see on TV. The Ghana Guys stressed the importance of spreading the correct impression of Africa upon returning to the United States.  
They also had the chance to work with the non-profit group International Development Enterprises (iDE). The Ghana Guys had the opportunity to visit Tamale, Ghana, where they volunteered on a separate irrigation issue to explore agricultural engineering.
At UD, ETHOS was a program that Tappel and Rasmussen were aware of from the beginning. Previously, Rasmussen studied abroad in Ireland because of his passion for travel, which encouraged him to apply to ETHOS. Tappel learned about the program during his School of Engineering visit in high school. After his mission trip to a Native American reservation in South Dakota, Tappel realized he wanted to use his engineering education to serve on an international scale.
Dean of the School of Engineering, Eddy Rojas, who has been to Malawi to see the work of ETHOS and other UD student groups first hand, shares his thoughts from his time abroad, “I saw how happy and willing people were to share, regardless of how needy they were." He encourages ETHOS students to share their own experiences to further promote ETHOS immersions.
Students, like the Ghana Guys, were excited to share their travels and experiences while professors heard how the ETHOS program has positively impacted their students’ lives. To learn more about the Ghana Guys, visit their blog at

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