The Rewards of Teaching

I come from a long line of teachers on both sides of my family, so I imagine there is something in the blood, but teaching is one of the things I’ve enjoyed doing most in life. This is the third year in a row that I’ve taught Integrated Energy Systems, a graduate electricial engineering course that I designed and curated as an avenue for young engineers to explore the ineractions between energy, society, economy and well-being through the lens of African case-study and scholarship.

Our energy systems – from electricity, to heating, cooling, cooking, and transportation fuels – are at the core of our economies, powering commerce, and industry. They are critical to achieving development goals like food security, and universal access to information and quality healthcare. So, energy systems are multidimensional and complex, and understanding these linkages is key to designing, sustainable, low-carbon futures. Over my many years as a student and practitioner in this space, I’ve found that courses on energy and the Global South can often be patronizing (though well-meaning) and often ignore the larger global, systemic issues that perpetuate such extremely different lived experiences. My goal with this course is to introduce young engineers to these complexities and this multidimensionality in ways that are authentic to our lived experience, as communities of the continent and of the diaspora. Students came from far and wide – Trinidad to Ivory Coast, Burundi to Nigeria.

Spring 2022: Took my amazing cohort to visit e-mobility company @AmpersandMotor1 today. They had a blast learning about cleantech revolutionizing the continent. To me THIS is African Union. In this photo: Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Jamaica.

I lecture this course for Carnegie Mellon University, Africa through a combination of hybrid and in-person lectures at the Kigali campus. Each year the class is full of talented engineers from all across the continent. I have designed the course to start from the basics of how we even define what is a problem or what is a solution, and who in our world holds the power to make those decisions. We move into the thermodynamics of energy, and look at the application of different technologies in the African context. There are assignments whose questions draw right froom the daily news, helping lift the theory off the pages into their homes and daily conversations. Our class time is full of rich conversation with local guest speakers who help further reinforce the technical content with their stories of being developers, researchers, or policy makers, or activists, painting a solid picture for students of what real careers look like. By the end of the course, students have taken a tour through the physics, social science, engineering, and justice of energy, with a heavy dose of critical thinking and a heavier dose of heart. Perhaps my favorite part is the one-on-one sessions I get to have with students between and after classes, where they share their aspirations or challenges, and we work through ideas together.

I also open up our experiences and learning to the broader CMU Africa student population. In previous years I’ve given campus wide guest lectures, and have arranged campus-wide panel discussions with WRI Africa’s fantastic bench of scientists, agriculturalists, and researchers, born and based in Rwanda. In May 2022, my WRI Africa team helped me pull of a truly amazing feat. WRI Africa and partners brought over 50 African youth activists from across the continent together with students for a full-day workshop on engagement and capacity building on energy, at the CMU Africa campus, ahead of the bi-annual Sustainable Energy for All Forum, held in Kigali later that week. They took these learnings directly into the SEforAll Forum, and it ended up making the record books – this was the largest youth delegation ever at an international energy forum (see my previous blog for more on that event, or watch the highlights reel here).

Spring 2022: Took my students to visit one of the largest utility-scale solar plants in East Africa, 8.5MW. @EASTAFRICANPOW1 technicians gave them a full rundown on PV ops. Watching them ask such sharp engineering questions was humbling, rewarding and inspiring.

Students have shared with me what an impact this course and our many campus events have had on them – I often hear the course has helped shape their career aspirations, or given them new confidence – but truly it is me who feels the gratitude. Each years cohort feels so driven, so motivated, so powerfully sharp and capable, it is an honor to have the chance to interact with them and contribute in some small way to their on-ramp. Many of them are now successfully graduated, landed into largely research or industry, and I feel so proud of what they are already accomplishing. They make me hopeful, they make me feel that the future is in safe hands. The Spring 2023 semester just successfully concluded, so I wanted to shout out these amazing students and share a bit about them with you!

Here is a highlights reel students put together themselves of our site visits, which makes me smile! And here is another fun one we did interview style on jobs opportunities. I am forever grateful for and proud of these young people and for the reward of teaching. African talent is boundless, it is their time!