Thursday, April 29, 2010

Amy Smith named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine

This piece of news today made me really excited to blog. Amy Smith, a professor of mine at MIT who wrote a recommendation for me for grad school, has been named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine. It's funny because I was just talking about her International Design and Development Summit with a friend (Nii Simmonds), one that she had organized at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology the past two summers. I am really proud of her, she's an awesome and smart individual and I hope she garners more publicity for her efforts to bring development all around the world.

Coupling my passion for Africa with my interests in engineering, I became really interested in engineering solutions to various problems in Africa. Being at MIT helped shape this interest and knowledge as I got to learn about various technologies being built with developing country conditions. I enrolled in a popular class called D-Lab, taught by Amy Smith in my first senior year semester. D stood for Dissemination, Design, Development, amongst others.

There are currently eleven different academic offerings that make up the suite of D-Lab classes, falling into the broad categories of Development, Design and Dissemination. See more info about D-Lab here.

In the class I took, we learnt about the economics and economic conditions in various developing countries, and technlogy (especially appropriate technology). The idea of the class was to learn about some of these technologies in the fall and choose some to implement in a specific country in January during MIT's IAP period. With Ghana an option, I chose to go there with the added bonus of a free trip home. The trip was eye-opening for me, as I got to spend a week each in Cape Coast and a little village in the Brong Ahafo Region. We worked with local expertise to build a peanut (groundnut) sheller out of concrete, make charcoal out of sugarcane waste (bagasse) and corn husks, implemented irrigation systems, some GPS mapping, water filtration and also organized an entrepreneurship seminar at the Cape Coast Polytechnic. It was a wonderful experience.

Amy Smith was on that Ghana trip, her very first to the country. Amy would say that she would make sure she's travelled to more countries than her age. At the time, she was in her 40's and had travelled to more nations than the number of years she'd spent building such an impactful life. Our other team members were team leader, Chief Yaw Anku, Jules Walter, Danielle Wen and Deborah Watkins. We visited the Suame Magazine as part of our trip as I had ties to the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. That introduction has led to more collaborations between Ghana's Tech and the USA's Tech as KNUST has hosted the IDDS summit, which brings together some of the cream of the crop in design technology.

Here's what Sandy Petland said about her on

It's fine to help the developing world, but first you have to know what it needs. Amy Smith does.

An engineer and the founder of MIT's innovative D-Lab, Smith, 47, is a former Peace Corps volunteer who spent parts of her childhood in India and Botswana. She's the creator of a hammer mill that converts grain to flour and an incubator that does not require electricity. Her design philosophy is elegant: create simple machines that meet particular needs and then build them locally.

Smith is also a teacher, taking kids to Haiti and Africa, where they design pumps, bicycle parts and other gear people need. Her machines are one of her gifts to the world; the students she trains will be an even more enduring one.

Congrats to Amy Smith and as we say in Ghana, "more garis to your elbow"
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