Masters student connects Ethiopian high school students with engineering and entrepreneurship skills

Zemene Tegegn, a master’s student in chemical engineering, returned to his roots this summer to work with students at the high school he attended in his home village of Delo Mena, Ethiopia. As a Gelfand Global Fellow participating in the Gelfand Global STEMpower Initiative, Tegegn helps develop engineering labs that connect basic scientific principles with entrepreneurship and economic development.

During the project this summer, Tegegn taught students how to use engineering to convert natural resources into higher value products such as soap, which uses oil pressed from the seeds of plants that grow in the village.

Throughout the three-day program, students learned about the physics behind extracting oil from seeds, the chemistry behind making soap from oil – balancing chemical reactions, temperature changes and more – and the technical design considerations to make it all work efficiently.

Once the soap was made, the students participated in a friendly competition. Leveraging their entrepreneurial skills, they used local plants and flowers to give the soap scents and colors and packaged them in a way that appealed to customers. Finally, each student presented their product to the jury and in front of an audience of 600 students and community members, the winners were announced.

Prior to this hands-on experience, most students were unfamiliar with science or engineering, Tegegn explained. Throughout the program, students began to develop a deep interest in the project and were inspired to pursue further studies in science and engineering, which Tegegn shared as the most rewarding part.

“That’s really the essence of chemical engineering,” said Dan Lacks, associate dean of academics and C. Benson Branch Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. “Using scientific principles, engineering design and creativity to manufacture products that benefit society.”

The Gelfand Global STEMpower Initiative is funded by Mark Gelfand, who received an honorary doctorate from Case Western Reserve University at the 2022 launch ceremony. Through this initiative, students from sub-Saharan Africa have the opportunity to participate in hands-on science labs, which due to limited resources is rare. Time spent in the labs working on projects like the one led by Tegegn educates and excites students about opportunities in STEM fields.

Learn more about the Gelfand Global STEM initiative.

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