I got to know Rosa through mutual connections on LinkedIn. I wanted to learn more about her journey in the field of renewable energy, as a young African woman. Here is her STEM story;
Hi Rosa, thank you for taking time to speak with me today. You are welcome to today’s episode of Words That Count
Thank you for having me.
Kindly introduce yourself please
My name is Rosa Monique Emefa Djangba, a Ghanaian by nationality, from the Volta region. I am currently a PhD student in Sustainable Energy Technologies at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Ghana.
Briefly walk us through your childhood to where you are now
I had most of my upbringing in the Eastern part of Ghana, that is Koforidua, where I lived for the biggest part of my childhood. I attended all my early school in the same region and proceeded to Aburi Girls’ Senior High School for my secondary education. I had all sorts of plans for my future while in primary school; at some point I wanted to be a journalist! I think this was because I loved reading very much. I remember there was a day I went to the library and picked a book full of picture. My teacher called me and swapped it with another thick book full of short stories. That’s how I started getting hooked on reading. I read all sorts of novels and books. That’s why I thought I would maybe be a writer or journalist some day.
Then I went to junior high school and fell in love with Technical Drawing and decided I was going to become an Architect. When I was in senior high school, I enjoyed general science and decided I was going to become a Medical Doctor, specifically a Paediatrician because I love children. I really don’t know how but I somehow found myself in the Engineering field, haha. I ended up doing Agricultural Engineering for my first degree. So you see, my childhood was just full of ideas here and there.
During my undergraduate degree, I took a course in renewable energy technologies and liked it most among all my courses. It was my favourite course and I excelled in it effortlessly. That’s when I decided to pursue a career in energy. We had an energy facility in my school – KNUST – called the Energy Center. I was able to work there for my national service as a research assistant. I did some work in Biofuels; conversion of sunflower into biodiesels. After that I pursued my masters in renewable energy technologies and I am here today.
What challenges have you faced along this journey?
There are so many things or experiences that have shaped my life to where I am now and most of the challenges have been related to working in the midst of men right through my university education. I mean, I had to try and pull my weight with my male colleagues. I was in a class with five females and about thirty-something males! I don’t actually remember the exact number but my career path has always been male-dominated and I have had to prove myself in a certain way or I would not be respected or regarded. I actually don’t know what it is that makes men feel like women are inferior or women know less than them. I always have to go the extra mile to be seen or to be noticed or to be accepted, appreciated you know! It’s been quite tough; for example, my job was mainly on project basis and my director would actually give tasks out. I sometimes felt like it was based on gender; thoughts like “maybe Rosa can’t do this because she’s a woman and this person can do it better because he’s a man”! There are times I have clearly shown my dissatisfaction about this and others where I have had to let it slide.
Another challenge is that the energy sector is choked with old men who do not want to retire. They’re past retirement but are still working on contract basis. The saddest thing is they’re not mentoring anybody. I think if anyone is not willing to retire, the best thing they can do for the country is to mentor someone to be as good as they are or even better! If you are very good at something, make it a point to leave yourself in somebody when your time comes. So talking of challenges in work, in school, it has always been trying to be better or even be at par with the male counterparts.
My other personal challenge is my health. I live with an autoimmune disease that sets me back sometimes and drives me to do extra. I remember going for my PhD scholarship interview and the lead interviewer said, “no we don’t think you can finish this PhD because you are sick”! I couldn’t believe this man! That should actually be grounds to give me the scholarship if I honestly qualified because we are all looking at making this world a better place and giving people hope. My health condition should act in my favour to help me have a meaningful life, however short you think it might be! An autoimmune disease is a very limiting condition that puts the person through a lot of challenges. I believe it is such people that need more courage to achieve their dreams. This incident affected me in so many ways! I am actually funding myself for the PhD, because of the decision that was taken that day. I had to stop working and take on the PhD full-time so that I finish in time. I am determined to prove wrong these professors who think that I cannot make it! Not just for me, but for the next person behind me; someone’s health shouldn’t be a basis for discrimination! I have worked for many years and this health problem has not interfered with my work at any significant level. Yes I had a very understanding boss, but that was because I always delivered on my assigned tasks. So I think people with challenges and health problems should be given equal opportunities to work, study and become better people. We are all trying to do something for ourselves.
Wow wow wow! This is very sad! I am deeply sorry you had to experience such a terrible thing! It should never happen to anyone!
Yes there have been setbacks but what are some of the things you look at and feel so proud for not giving up on yourself?
I was a member of the Future Energy Leaders for the World Energy Council; that was from 2017 to 2020. The Future Energy Leaders Program is a prestigious program that has one hundred future energy leaders from around the world who come together to do projects and address issues concerning the energy sector around the world. So I was in the program for three years and I graduated with a silver badge. That’s one of my greatest achievements.
I have been recognised for some awards; 2019 -Nominee Rising Star Award Ghana Energy Awards, 2012- President Women in Engineering KNUST, 2011- Secretary Women in Engineering KNUST, plus others during my early school days.
I have also been invited to various energy conferences worldwide; in Abu Dhabi, Portugal, Bazil, Italy, Australia, plus the ones locally in Ghana.
I am also proud to have published some significant reports in the energy sector. More is yet to come regarding this.
Aside your PhD, what else takes most of your time?
In my free time, I am just at home in bed or I’m doing church work. I am a Christian by the way, so I just dedicate my free time to working for the Lord and I like to read too. I read all sorts of literature, Christian literature, I read novels. Also, another thing I do is that I mentor people in the Senior High Schools and the universities. I try and help them to set their goals and to choose their career paths and general stuff like that.
What is your favourite quote?
So my favourite quote is; “if there is life there is hope” ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero. As far as you have life, you have an opportunity to achieve. There’s no need to feel down when you hit a road bump. Just pick yourself up, re-strategise, learn from your mistakes and get going.
What is your world of encouragement for a young girl out there who is struggling to fit into the STEM field?
I’d like to encourage everybody out there who is facing a challenge of some sort or a difficulty or a disability, be it physical or mental. I just want to say that you can do it, keep pushing, do not give up, do not be discouraged by what others will say to you. Just believe in yourself, believe in God, and believe in the path that you have set yourself on. Just keep doing your best. Yes, you may hit a road, you may get to a point where things are so difficult that you cannot push. Just take a breather, just stop, reassess, see what you’re doing wrong, see what you can do better and start again. Do not be afraid to start all over again. Do not be afraid to make mistakes. Do not be afraid to do what you love to do. Just believe, have faith and you will make it.
Thank you very much Rosa, for sharing part of your personal story with us. It’s really sickening to see that we still have to deal with such behaviour among humans! We at Words That Count see your work and support you 100%. Please don’t give up, continue pushing.