Modou Jaw

Area of Focus: Computer Engineering

Modou Jaw: Student and Entrepreneur

Modou Jaw is a busy man. He is pursuing his bachelor’s degree in computer engineering in ECE, and has not a moment to spare. Over the past summer, he completed an internship with Google, and then headed over to Intel as an intern for fall. Considering his tight schedule, we did manage to steal a few moments to talk, and learn more about his journey to the University and his plans for the future.  

Growing up in Gambia, the smiling coast of Africa, Modou remembers being driven to learn and be academically successful. Always ranked at the top of his class every semester, he completed high school with the opportunity to travel either to the United Kingdom or to the United States to further his education. This was in 2008, at the time of the US presidential elections, and interested in the political scene here, Modou chose to come to the United States. He arrived here as an international student headed for Oklahoma. But Oklahoma turned out to be more expensive than he could afford, and Modou moved to Minnesota. He worked 60 hours a week and went to school part time at Minnesota Community and Technical College. Success followed him at MCTC too. He was one of only 20 students across the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to win the Mark M. Welter World Citizen Award as a mathematics student at MCTC. The Welter scholarship and the support of his older brother helped Modou earn his Associate’s degree.

He was one of only 20 students across the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to win the Mark M. Welter World Citizen Award as a mathematics student at MCTC.

After earning his associate’s degree at MCTC, Modou moved to the University of Minnesota to pursue a degree in Electrical Engineering, initially. His move to the University was an outcome of his experience as an intern at Minco while a freshman at MCTC and the encouragement of his internship supervisor, a graduate from the University, who was impressed by Modou’s problem solving skills. While at Minco, he had the opportunity to work alongside mechanical and electrical engineers, and Modou began to actively evaluate what major he might be interested in pursuing. There was some friendly jostling between the electrical and mechanical engineers, with the electrical engineers claiming that their area of expertise was far more complex, and their problem solving skills thereby far superior. A lover of challenges himself, Modou decided that electrical engineering would be his chosen path. But as he waded deeper into his internship, he noticed that the electrical engineers on his team also wrote software for the hardware they designed. Piqued by this, Modou considered pursuing a double major in electrical engineering and computer science. But on arriving at the University, he was introduced to another option, Computer Engineering, that exists at the interface of hardware and software. It would allow him to move between the worlds of hardware design and electrical engineering, and writing software. And it would eventually be Modou’s major of choice.

Modou’s decision has been a sound one for him. It has opened doors to exciting and challenging opportunities: internships with technology leaders such as Google and Intel, and interactions with experts practising in the field. Having completed his internship with Google over the summer, he is currently on assignment with Intel for the fall. Along the way, he hopes to resurrect a company he had founded while at MCTC called 9qbd. The company is intended to work as a one stop shop for web applications, software for phones and other devices, serving a variety of local Somali businesses.

Over the summer, while Modou interned on the west coast, he teamed up with a few other motivated young individuals to participate in Hack4Diversity, a hackathon hosted by the Univision Technological Training Center in collaboration with Code2040. An outcome of this participation was NetBridge, an app that has been been developed based on the team’s personal experiences and their shared journeys as immigrants and people of color struggling to find mentors they could relate to. NetBridge will connect mentor-seekers with mentors with similar backgrounds, individuals who share similar journeys. The app was well-received at the competitive hackathon: Modou and his teammates won the People’s Choice award, as well as the Ready to Launch award. NetBridge is poised to be launched in April 2018 by Code2040. (Watch a video of their presentation here, and information on Code2040 here.)

NetBridge was well-received at the competitive hackathon: Modou and his teammates won the People’s Choice award, as well as the Ready to Launch award.

But the story of Modou’s entrepreneurial spirit does not end with NetBridge. He is keen on giving back to the community he grew up in, and has been turning over a few ideas in his mind. He is hoping to put the power of the Internet of Things (IoT) to good use to help farmers in Africa by introducing some form of low cost automated farming techniques. He is also thinking of ways to harness the power of IoT to address the electric power situation in Gambia. To this end he has been tapping on the expertise of faculty members Prof. Rhonda Franklin, Prof.John Sartori, Prof. Ned Mohan (from ECE), and Prof. Nikos Papanikopoulos (from CS&E).

For Modou, the road ahead looks promising, full of hope and challenges. He has travelled a long way in more ways than one, and his experiences along the way will certainly support him as he embarks on his professional career. And we in ECE wait to see what new heights he will scale next.

Click here for Univision’s coverage of Hack4diversity