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Six Mastercard Foundation Scholarship recipients bound for Arizona quickly pivot to remote learning and help define Sun Devil resilience.  

Attending school remotely in a pandemic has its challenges. At the very least, you need to find a quiet place with a stable internet connection and good headphones.

Now imagine trying to attend your first semester at Arizona State University while living in Ghana or Zimbabwe — two places in the world where internet connection can be spotty and electricity is less than reliable.

Add in a time difference of more than seven hours and a delay in textbooks arriving, and you have the current situation facing six of our electrical engineering students.  

The international cohort from Ashesi University is part of the Mastercard Foundation Scholarship 3+1+1 program that brings students from Ghana and Zimbabwe to the greater Phoenix area. These are outstanding students who have demonstrated exceptional academic and leadership potential, yet face significant barriers to continuing their education.

Students spend three years at their home university and two years at ASU completing studies for their bachelor’s degrees and earning their master’s degrees. 

The Ashesi six are:

Headshot of Munyaradzi Madzoma Headshot of Armandine Joana Amessouwoe Headshot of Doreen Marfo Headshot of Christabel Kuuniffaah Headshot of Emmanuella Anti Flag of Ghana
Munyaradzi Madzoma 
Zimbabwe
Power engineering
(Photo credit –  John Morris – Ashesi University)
Armandine Joana Amessouwoe
Ghana
Power engineering
Doreen Marfo
Ghana
Power engineering
Christabel Kuuniffaah
Ghana
Power engineering
Emmanuella Anti
Ghana
Power engineering
(Photo credit –  John Morris – Ashesi University)
Christopher Anamalia
Ghana
Electronic + mixed-signal circuit

The 2020/2021 academic year has not been a typical year for anyone, but especially so for this group of students. The six found themselves unable to travel to Arizona and not prepared for remote learning.

The first hurdle the students faced was adequate housing. Many live in places not conducive to learning. The Mastercard Foundation stepped in and found accommodations in hostels for all the students. 

Five of them are housed together in a hostel in Ghana, while Madzoma, who lives in Zimbabwe in a boarding house. 

Next, they faced internet and electricity challenges. Solar electricity is provided at the hostel in Zimbabwe, but when it’s time to attend class on Mountain Standard Time, it’s dark where Madzoma is residing.

There is always a chance the solar power reserve has been depleted by the time class begins. The other students in Ghana rely on a generator that isn’t always functioning. The lack of electricity also impacts internet availability, but the service can fail on its own as well. And when the internet is finally up and running, there is no guarantee that the bandwidth available will support the demands of the day’s lessons. 

The most significant impact on the group has been the time difference. The Ghana group is seven hours ahead of Tempe, and our lone student in Zimbabwe is two hours earlier than them. 

“I had to adjust everything,” Madzoma says. “Changing my sleeping schedule, how I eat, even how I interact with my family members, because when I am starting my day, their day is ending.”

To make things even more complicated, Madzoma had a class project partner in Japan who was seven hours ahead of him (16 hours ahead of Tempe). Needless to say, time management became essential. 

As part of students’ transition into the ASU community, Undergraduate Academic Advisor Anneliese Mougharbel set time aside for a Zoom chat every Friday morning with the group. 

“When I learned their arrival would be delayed, I wanted to find a way to connect with them,” Mougharbel says. “I wanted them to know they have an advocate and we value them.”

The weekly meetings are a good way for the students to reconnect, share their challenges, and learn. 

Mougharbel also uses the time to help the group understand cultural differences. One difference that became clear quickly is how American students interact with their professors. From the African student’s perspective, it is not common for students to question a Professor’s behavior in a lecture and openly critique their teaching style. Mougharbel encourages her students to reach out to their teachers, empowering each student to be an integral part of their academic journey. 

Mougharbel isn’t the only one looking out for the cohort. Professors and staff have been flexible on participation dates and adjusted office hours to help keep the students on track.

With one full semester under their belt, the students reflect fondly on their experiences. They do not dwell on their challenges. Instead, they talk about their enriching experiences with ASU faculty, staff and students. 

“I’d like to thank the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering staff and faculty,” Madzoma says. “They did a great job posting content on time and pinging us when something needed our attention. I finished the semester with a smile.”

The students hope to take what they’ve learned from ASU and create a better world through their skills in electrical engineering.

“I am convinced my education at ASU will equip me with the necessary knowledge to contribute to the power industry in Ghana and across the world,” Amessouwoe says. “I envision myself to be a global citizen and I have that drive to achieve this goal.”