Area of Focus: Electrical Engineering
Graduation Year: Spring 2014
“I have come to rely on my professors for advice and help even after school.”
From Accra to the Twin Cities: All Roads Lead to ECE
The Early Years
The story of the Sefah brothers is a remarkable one. It speaks of perseverance, hard work, creativity, and boldness. Kwame, Kwodwo (who goes by Kojo), Kwaku Sr. and Kwaku Jr. grew up in the West African nation of Ghana before moving to Minnesota. Having lost their mother when they were little, and with their father having moved to the United States to provide for them, the brothers were raised primarily by relatives in Accra, the capital of Ghana. Reminiscing of their time growing up in Ghana, the brothers speak of the struggles they faced being away from their father, and pursuing their education despite the economic and social challenges. Money was often in short supply even for essentials such as food, clothes, and books, despite the regular remittances. And there were other trials. Kwame says, “We walked miles and miles to school after breakfast, and even though our dad sent money, there was not enough and we had to engage in trading to help our aunt make a living.”
After several years of preparing to migrate to the United States and many visa denials, the Sefah brothers finally arrived in the Twin Cities. Kwame arrived first, in 2006, followed by Kojo, Kwaku Sr. and Kwaku Jr.
Kwame forged the educational path ahead for the brothers. He attended Anoka Ramsey Community College, and later transferred to the U. The others followed suit. About his interest in Electrical Engineering, Kwame says, “During my schooling at Anoka Ramsey Community College, my involvement in the math, physics and engineering clubs, North Star STEM Alliance program, and TRiO Student Support Services played a significant part in my decision to be an electrical engineer.”
The ECE Experience
Kojo’s interests lay in chemical engineering initially, but spending time with Kwame and his friends in the ECE department helped change his mind. He was intrigued by their conversations, and their discussions especially on power and power systems clinched it. For Kwaku, following in the footsteps of his older brothers as an electrical engineer seemed the most natural thing to do. And the right option too considering his deep interest in the subject, and the willingness to work hard to excel.
The brother are unanimous in their recognition of the value of engaging in activities outside the classroom. Kojo worked as the corporate relations chair for NSBE, besides participating in other student groups. But most significantly, he helped set up the multicultural students in STEM group, MSTEM.
Being awarded the President’s Student Leadership and Service Award was the highlight of his student leadership experience at the U.
As a participant in the MRSEC Summer Research program in 2010 at the University, Kwame had the opportunity to get some research experience under the guidance of Prof. Paul Crowell (School of Physics and Astronomy) and his team of graduate students. While his research focus was on spectroscopy of spontaneous spin noise, he also honed his interpersonal and public speaking skills through weekly presentations. And he had the opportunity to display his research and presentation skills in the final poster presentation at the end of that summer.
Kwaku Sr. credits his engagement in student chapter groups such as IEEE and NSBE in helping him build his confidence, communication, and leadership skills. For Kwame, his time with some of the prominent ECE related student groups was one of growth and professional development. “Of course, the free food was a definite bonus,” laughs Kwame.
While the Sefah brothers appreciate the value of connecting with student groups and participating in the student community in diverse ways, they are also very cognizant of the importance of academic success. As transfer students who came from a community college setting to a large research university, the early days of the transition were admittedly rough. But it did not take long for them to adjust to the new surroundings and new expectations. That is not to say that it was smooth sailing for the rest of their academic careers. Kwaku Sr. talks about a semester in which leading several student groups projects resulted in his ignoring his course work. Of course, this impacted his semester-end academic outcome, but he also learned the importance of prioritization and delegation—valuable lessons for the professional world.
When asked if they had any advice for incoming students, the brothers were in agreement on the importance of building connections with faculty as well as students and student groups. They credit their internship and career opportunities to their active engagement with the people and resources in ECE. If they have any regrets, these are mostly to do with not having been more persevering in applying to a large number of scholarships. They recommend that students look beyond the department and the university when looking for scholarships. Student groups and professional organizations such as IEEE also offer scholarships and these are not opportunities to be missed.
While Kwaku Jr. is at work on prerequisites to apply for the electrical engineering major, Kwaku Sr., Kwame and Kojo have graduated and are pursuing careers as electrical engineers. Kwaku Sr. is with Boeing, Kwame with Sebesta, and Kojo with Flint Hills Resources.
Words from the Wise
Kwaku Sr. says “Apply for scholarships, go to the CSE Career Center for resume and cover letter workshops, and utilize ECE’s Exceed Lab.”
For Kwame, student groups were the key to honing his communication skills and leadership abilities. He also emphasizes the importance of study groups: “The study groups I joined helped me understand some of the concepts and course materials I had trouble with.”
Kojo stresses the importance of developing a strong relationship with faculty. “I have come to rely on my professors for advice and help even after school.” He adds, “Strive for academic excellence and make sure you get an internship while in school.”