Ashesi University, the independent African school started by Microsoft veteran Patrick Awuah, is starting its next phase of growth.
Construction has started on a building to house a new engineering program on Ashesi’s campus in a suburb of Accra, Ghana.
The engineering building (shown in a rendering above) is designed to accommodate 300 students after it opens in 2015 and to complement Ashesi’s other degree programs, in business and computer science.
“We think this is an opportunity for job growth and innovative new solutions, and it’s a great mix with the computer science and business majors because they can work together as a team,” said Ruth Warren, a Seattle-based trustee of the school.
Awuah left Microsoft in 1997 to start the university in his native Ghana; the first classes began in 2002. The school moved in 2011 from rented space to its own campus, which now has about 600 students but room to grow eventually to perhaps 2,000 students.
The goal was to provide an Ivy League caliber education to produce ethical leaders for Africa. Graduates have gone on to work for local and multinational companies and start their own companies on the continent.
Warren said engineering graduates may help with other regional challenges. The school is working with Stanford, the University of Waterloo and other North American universities to develop a curriculum focused in part on rapid prototyping and product development.
“Africa really needs improved, smarter infrastructure, and they also need innovative, affordable new products to meet local needs,” she said. Right now, things tend to be designed by American engineers and then manufactured in China and by the time they’re deployed in Ghana, if they’re not exactly right, it’s a long cycle to make a change.”
Another goal of the engineering program is to produce more women engineers. The mix of male to female graduates in other programs is about 50-50 and Ashesi is hoping for a similar balance in engineering, though that’s an ambitious goal, Warren said.
“I always hear of repairs to our nation’s facilities being delayed because Ghana has to bring in expertise from overseas to fix the problem,” Ashesi Student Council President Michael Quansah said in a release. ”This is not because we don’t have engineers in Ghana, but it’s because our education systems do not prepare them well enough to tackle these problems. The delivery of quality education, that can be immediately applied to solve the problems we face, is needed.”
So far Ashesi has raised $3.4 million of the $4.7 million needed for the engineering building and a forthcoming mechanical engineering wing. The largest portion came from a $1 million grant from Stanford supporters Robert and Dottie King. Several anonymous Seattle area donors — including at least one with Microsoft connections — have provided $500,000 matching grants for two years in a row.
At a groundbreaking ceremony a few weeks ago, Awuah (in white shirt with pickaxe) was joined by the local chief and elders.