“We run a programme called RISE – Robotics-Inspired Science Education – and the key thing is to inspire science education,” Dr Ashitey Trebi-Ollenu told the BBC’s Exchanges at the Frontiers programme broadcasted on the BBC World Service Sunday January 25, 2015.
Dr Ashitey Trebi-Ollennu (FIET, FRAeS, SMIEEE, PMP) is a Group Lead and Robotics Engineer at the NASA-Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena, CA and a Fellow of the IET (U.K.), a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society, U.K., a Senior Member of the IEEE and Certified Project Management Professional (PMP).
Dr. Trebi-Ollennu received the 2008 NASA Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal for his contributions to the Mars Exploration Rover mission, 2007 Outstanding Engineer Award from IEEE Region 6, 2007 Sir Monty Finniston Achievement Medal from Institution of Engineering and Technology, U.K., and 2010 Specialist Silver Award from the Royal Aeronautical Society, U.K.
Dr. Trebi-Ollennu is also a recipient of a dozen NASA Group Achievement Awards (FIDO, MER & Phoenix) and over half a dozen major NASA Space Act Awards.
He currently works on the InSight Mission as an Instrument Deployment Systems Engineer and MSL (Curiosity Rover) as a Robotic Arm Systems Engineer.
In 2016 the Mars Rover InSight will land on the Red Planet, drill down into its core and analyse the structure. This data should provide a unique insight into planetary evolution. Dr Trebi-Ollenu has been in the thick of affairs on that project.
But the Ghanaian NASA Scientist is not limiting his expertise to unravelling the mysteries of the Universe in outer space: he is very well connected to his roots back home and has started grooming Africa’s next generation of scientists through the RISE project.
He told a live audience and facilitator of the Exchanges at the Frontier programme, Claudia Hammond that there could not have been a better approach to inspiring science learning in Africa’s young generation than using robots.
“When I go to a school and I say to the kids: ‘Hey come and hang with me and let’s do science!’ What do you think they are going to do? They are not going to show up because they have this negative connotation about science.
“But when I tell them: ‘Come let’s build some robots; the room is going to get filled up, right? So what we do is that we use robots to inspire science education and the key thing for developing countries is connecting theory to practice, so this is the kind of thing we are doing and it’s kind of exploded,” Dr Trebi-Ollenu said.
The US-based Ghanaian-born NASA Engineer says the RISE project has exceeded his expectations.
“We started with a few hundred students, now we have thousands of students and this thousands of students, we’re just not interested in numbers, we interested in people pursuing STEM [Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics] education, STEM carriers.
“So that’s what we’ve been doing. It’s been very successful: it’s kind of outgrown our projections and it’s very exciting that kids are able to take their science theory and know that they can be able to use it to solve everyday problems.
Through RISE, Dr Trebi-Ollenu is hoping to close the gender-gap in STEM education on the Continent, starting from his home country Ghana.
“This year, one of our teams, the girls’ team, was the best girls team in a high school for the whole about 47 countries and that’s pretty exciting.
“And the goal is trying to encourage more girls to pursue STEM, especially girls. In our programmes 50 percent of the participants are girls.
“What we did was we gave them [girls] the opportunity, most of the time girls are not given the opportunity to get into science, so we actively go to the schools and we make science fun. We take the mystery out of it.”