I am a “Badass” who saves lives – Lovelyn Keteku

I got to know Lovelyn through LinkedIn after part of her story was posted in a group called Girls in Science and Technology – GIST from Ghana. Here is our interview about her STEM journey:

Hi Lovelyn, thank you for joining us today. How is your morning?
Hi Winnie, thanks for the invitation! It’s a lazy morning, I am off work. So, just taking time to clean around and do my laundry.

What is your full name?
My full name is Lovelyn Keteku.

Please tell us what you do currently
I am a flight operator at Zipline. My main responsibilities include launch and recovery of Zipline drones, maintenance of the drones and ground equipment. At Zipline we use drones to send medical products, vaccines, and blood products to remote facilities that have no access to such products, maybe because of bad roads or have run out of stock of those products and are in emergency situations. It’s my duty to make sure that the drones we are using are in perfect operational state – up and running. I am also a site maintenance technician with responsibilities like ensuring that all systems used to launch, power and recover the drone system are all in good working condition.

For a bit of background, Zipline drones are autonomous. Launching is how we send a drone into the sky for it to continue flying. The drones we use are a different type, not like the normal small ones (quadcopters). Ours are like small planes with compartments where we put the packages to be sent to the facilities. So the launcher is what we use to launch the drones – it’s very good technology that we needed here in Africa. When the drones get to their destinations, they don’t land. They simply open the compartments, drop the package and then return to the distribution center. The drones are caught on an A frame system called the recovery system upon returning to the distribution center. So those are the duties of flight operators at Zipline.

Wow! You must be having fun at work! This sounds so cool, haha…
Yeah, we have different types of work, but work that makes you realise that you are saving someone’s life comes with a different sense of fulfilment. It also comes with a huge responsibility because you know that every drone you fly, every package you send, is saving someone’s life. For example, we have emergency situations where someone is in dire need of some medication and you know that if that drone doesn’t fly, you may lose that patient. It’s all about passion and dedication to save humanity.

What has your journey been like?
I am a 24 year-old lady, still quite young, haha… I was born in Nigeria because my parents had moved there for greener pastures. We are originally Ghanaian but I schooled and stayed in Nigeria for a while. My dad later suggested that I return to Ghana for further studies because the quality of education in Nigeria at that time wasn’t what he wanted for me. I came to Ghana when I was around 10, which was a difficult time for me because I had to move away from my family to a country I didn’t really know much about. What I remember is that I wanted to be a medical doctor then. I stayed in a boarding house through Junior High School to help me get that good education. I was already passionate about Physics, Mathematics, and general science because I found these subjects intriguing and I knew I could use them to save lives. I remember reading the book “Think Big” by Ben Carson a lot! That’s where he talked about his journey and how he became a neurosurgeon. The education system in Ghana gave me an option to apply for general science if I wanted to become a medical doctor. So I went for that. The problem happened when I joined Senior High School and realised I didn’t really perform well in Biology – yet it is a MUST for any medical doctor. I wasn’t very passionate about it! So I shifted my focus to Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics.

My main challenge then was Physics – the subject was very hard for me at the beginning. I had to sit down and have a chat with myself. I believed that, yes the subject is hard, but it doesn’t have to be that way for me too. I started making physics my life – any time the teacher was not in class, I was doing physics. This actually paid off and I became one of the best students in Physics, Mathematics and Chemistry. I received awards for being the best female student in Physics for three years in a row, I also got best female student in Chemistry for a year, and best female student in mathematics in another year. My other challenge then was the absence of family in my life. That emotional gap affected me in a certain way. It was so serious that at some point I preferred staying back at school during vacation to just continue reading. I knew my parents were not around!

My inspiration was my background. Coming from a humble background made me realise that I didn’t want to be like some of the relatives I had in my life. My only path to standing out was education. I based that and built my story.

After Senior High School, I applied for university but remember my Biology wasn’t good yet I still wanted to do medicine. I ended up not getting admission into any university or program that year. It was very sad, since I had to push myself, study hard, and sleep less! Admissions were opened the following year and this time some mentors helped me realise that I might want to do medicine but that’s not where my true passion is. I am more of a Physics and Mathematics person; why not venture into engineering? I decided to start reading more about electrical and electronics engineering because of the diversity in that option. I got admission into the University of Mines and Technology, which is a sole engineering school in Ghana. While at university, I signed up for internships all the time to help me get some skills here and there. This helped boost my CV! What surprised me most during my internships and national service was the fact that I was the ONLY lady in most of these places! But because I was passionate about my work and took on anything that was thrown my way, my supervisors changed their mindset about me as a young lady in engineering. These are some of the challenges women in engineering face when in the field.

I also worked as a sales engineer for a cable production company. This required an engineering background to be able to make recommendations. I realised that my growth wasn’t as outlined as I expected, so I decided to apply for various opportunities. That’s how I landed on Zipline – with all the saving lives and engineering aspects – it was the best opportunity for me. Zipline has been an amazing journey for me because it gives me an opportunity to be who I am while working with people from different cultures and nationalities. I love engineering, I enjoy it and I am definitely passionate about it.

It looks like we have covered the challenges you have faced as a woman in engineering!
To add to my challenges as a woman in STEM, I am tired of hearing the question “Can you do it?”! I mean, by the time you have called me for an interview, you have looked through my CV and other documents. You should be convinced that I can deliver! It seems like a basic question but it is very hard! What does the person on the other end expect me to answer? Things like, “what is a woman doing in this field?”, “You will see a nice man, get married and forget all about engineering”,….. I feel like these statements are degrading! If I grew up hearing my dad say such things to me, I wouldn’t have made it this far. So, yes, they might seem like simple jokes but they are very harmful to someone trying to climb a given ladder.

Society should be intentional when talking to girls who want to pursue engineering. It might be better for other fields of STEM but it is very bad when it comes to engineering. It’s like someone superior decided that we should never cross that path and we are here busy trying to defy his orders! People need to know that it’s doable by anyone irrespective of their gender.

Amidst all this stereotyping, what has helped you push harder?
Hahaha…… I want to be a “badass”! I am saying this because we don’t see many women in the field! So my very competitive nature pushes me to always be on top of my game! I am not here to be below the ladder! I should be on top, so that other girls can see me and desire the same.

I am also inspired by the fact that engineering is a very vital sector for the development of any economy. I want to significantly make my contribution to my country Ghana and maybe Africa at large.

I forgot to mention this earlier but I am studying engineering management for my masters. This basically has to do with management in an engineering firm. This is another way of inspiring young girls, because imagine walking into an engineering firm and the manager is a woman!

Who is Lovelyn outside work?
I love traveling and swimming. I also enjoy visiting tourist places – I call it reconnecting to nature. I come from the Volta region in Ghana, which is a very beautiful place full of amazing scenery.

I also enjoy talking – I have a Podcast where I talk about real life challenges. Some of my topics are personal experiences, and others are from various people. I mainly talk about the journey of transitioning from childhood to adulthood. We live in a generation where people post happy pictures only! Young people don’t really know the real struggles of life. I feel like letting them know that when they face challenges they are not alone, someone has gone through them and overcome them. I talk about the hardships of me becoming an engineer – real raw stuff!

I run my own business of voice overs and an intimate online shop for plus size people!

Please share with us some of your prestigious achievement
In 2018, I was recognised as the best radio presenter by my university. I also got an award for student activism in 2017.

What is your favourute quote?
There is nothing like too much woman! Every girl can be what they want to be.” ~ Lovelyn Keteku

What is your last piece of advice to young girls?
You can achieve all you want at any age you want! You don’t have to be old to accomplish a certain level of things! it’s all about determination and knowing what you want.

Beside the books, you need the practical knowledge of what you do. As a lady, you need to give tangible output for people to believe your abilities. Remember when you enter the field, you are competing with people who may strongly believe that as a lady, you shouldn’t be an engineer! So, take on as many internships as you can while still in school.

Thank you, Lovelyn! It has been an amazing session. Good luck with school, please keep doing what you do. We need you!

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