Encouraging STEM careers: SDSU student leads non-profit in Ghana

Eye on KELOLAND

BROOKINGS, S.D. (KELO) – Careers in science, technology, engineering and math aren’t for everyone. But one student at South Dakota State University in Brookings is working to make sure those career paths are at least an option for everyone.

At South Dakota State University, Augustina Osabutey is in a PhD program studying in the agricultural and biosystems engineering department.

But back home in Ghana, she leads a team working to inspire teenagers considering careers in STEM fields.

“I’m the founder of Teen Leadership and Entrepreneur Development Foundation, we call it Teen Lead Foundation and our objective is to mentor and coach teenagers to achieve their career goals,” Osabutey said.

Her motivation for starting the non-profit came after visiting her cousin in one of Ghana’s bigger cities.

“I realized that I had a lot of educational deficits coming from the rural area in Ghana,” Osabutey said. “So I grew up in Axim so that is where I was schooling at that time and I couldn’t even talk, I felt humiliated when she introduced me to her friends because even just, I wasn’t fluent in English.”

On her way home from that trip, she told herself this:

“I have to work hard, study, so that I will one day be able to get a good job to be able to help the teenagers, like me, in the rural areas,” Osabutey said.

And work hard she did. Though she originally thought she’d become a doctor, she switched to mechanical engineering after noticing a shortage of female engineers in her home country.

“In Ghana, when you do science, people really look at being a doctor or a teacher, so that was my focus,” Osabutey said. “I was going to be a teacher or a doctor but I’m glad I was able to at least get to know about the other parts of science. And that really helps me in giving back to society, telling the teenagers, hey, this is out there if you want to do that. It’s just fulfilling trying to help a teenager.”

Xufie Yang is Osabutey’s advisor at SDSU. He says what she’s doing could inspire other graduate students.

“For most of our engineering students, they have to recognize knowledge is one thing, but the determination to serving the society is actually more important because humanity is eventually what the things we are pursuing,” Yang said.

Balancing being a student and running a non-profit thousands of miles away is not an easy task.

“It gets to a point with, especially with the financial aspects, I have to forfeit my lunch, sometimes I have to eat once a day and then give the money to someone to be able to join, buy data to be able to join our Zoom programs,” Osabutey said. “Or even some of the teenagers come to me, I really need this, someone will even come to you, I need a laptop.”

Osabutey says the organization could use some help.

“Our objective is to introduce 25,000 teenagers to STEM within five years,” Osabutey said. “I’m hoping a company out there or someone out there will find some interest in what we are doing to support us.”

She estimates they’ve already helped over a thousand Ghanaian teens since starting the non-profit in 2017. But she has big hopes for how it can continue to grow.

“I hope to see it get to a point that we can set up a scholarship scheme to help teenagers in the rural areas who want to go to school, who want to get into the STEM field,” Osabutey said.

A passion for science and a willingness to give to others what she didn’t have growing up.

“My goal is to see teenagers achieve their career goals,” Osabutey said.

Osabutey’s PhD research project is focused on nutrients conservation and wastewater treatment. She also hopes to use that knowledge back in Ghana to help with the drinking water issues there.

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