Work-break For Family – Nana Efua Amponsah

I met Nana during my first time in Ghana as a student at AIMS. Here is our interview about her scientific journey:

Who do we have today?
My name is Nana Efua Amponsah; originally Nana Efua Imbeah, last name changed after marriage.

What do you currently do Nana?
I am currently a Stay at Home Mom as I have taken a break from work to care for my littles since we have little to no reliable support where we live now. Prior to this, I worked with the New Jersey Department of Transportation as a civil engineer trainee and then an assistant engineer before I left. I have also worked with AIMS-Ghana, where I met you in several different roles. I started off as a project manager tasked with helping the late Prof. Francis Allotey to set up AIMS in Ghana. This was in early 2011, when I had just returned from the US after completing my master’s degree in Environmental and Resources Engineering. That was a fun project. I had never done anything similar but the chance to build something from the ground up was an opportunity I did not take for granted. It was challenging since there was no infrastructure, or playbook, to work with. We had to secure a location, source vendors, hire personnel, and devise means to generate additional funding.

I did have my first child through all of this as I discovered once I begun working with AIMS that I was pregnant. I worked till the day before I had him and continued working from home for 3 months after he was born. I went back to work afterwards and credit my parents for the amazing support with my son. Eventually AIMS-Ghana was setup and my role changed to that of communications and funding. I worked with AIMS for 2 years and left again for the US to rejoin my husband who by then had finished with his residency and was starting a fellowship in Cardiology. We decided it was time as he had already missed the first 2 years of his son’s life.

Tell us about your life journey in summary
I was born in Accra, the capital city of Ghana and attended Christ the King International School for my elementary and Junior High School Education. I then proceeded to St Roses Secondary School, an all-girls boarding school in the Eastern Region of Ghana for my Senior High School Education. After 3 years of High School, I was admitted to the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology to study Civil Engineering. I had wanted to study medicine, however my grades for Biology were not up to what was required. I also did not want to write the Biology paper a second time and so opted for something relating to the other subjects I had done so well in, re Physics, Elective Math and Chemistry. My mom wanted me to study pharmacy and I refused, as at the time, every Pharmacist I knew was a “store owner”, as in they owned and (wo)manned pharmacy shops. I could not envision that for myself. An uncle told me about civil engineering, and I decided to apply for that as it seemed interesting.

College was fun and in my third year, I ran for and got the position of Financial secretary for our Engineering Students Association. I have always had an affinity for environmental issues and so for my final project in college I chose to concentrate on the environmental aspect of Civil engineering. After college, I was a teaching assistant in the same department for a year as my national service, which all graduating student are required by the government to undertake. Through my environmental engineering professor and the Women in Engineering Association, I got the opportunity to attend an amazing conference in Paris – the International Institute of Women in Engineering (IIWE) Conference at EPF Ecole d’Ingénieurs. The highlights of that was the opportunity to visit Schlumberger and IBM France, and Veolia Water.

During my national service, I applied for and gained admission to the State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, to pursue my Masters. I left right after my service ended. Graduate school was interesting as after I got over the culture shock, I leaned so many new things and made many lasting friendships. It was also the first time I got to experience snow. I worked as a teaching and research assistant during grad school to pay for my living expenses and the school offered me a 2-year tuition scholarship. Without these, there is no way I could have paid for an American education. After grad school, I worked for an environmental consulting company in Boston, for about 2 years. During the global crash of 2008, I moved to New Jersey with my now husband (then boyfriend), where he was to begin his medical residency.

It was hard to find another job since layoffs were the norm. I elected to move back to Ghana to interview for the AIMS position since I knew it would be temporary. After 2 years with AIMS, I moved back to the States and worked as a bank teller for 7 months before I started working with the Department of transportation as an engineer again.

What are some of your inspirations and challenges?
Prof. Mrs. Esi Awuah, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Energy & Environmental Resources, and my undergraduate environmental engineering professor. I developed a love for all things environmental thorough her tutelage. My family, especially my children, I tell myself that even if I don’t achieve anything else in life, and I am able to help them grow into productive, responsible functioning adults who do the right thing, and are able to take care of themselves and give to others I would have succeeded at life. I am enjoying seeing life through their eyes.

My biggest challenge was when I returned to the US and could not secure a job right away. I was so used to getting up every day, going to work and feeling useful, and here I was having to depend on my husband. That was tough for me. It took some time and introspection for me to realize that my worth was not in what I do, but who I am. And that is what I hope to teach my daughter, that you should first be comfortable in who you are before adding on anything else. That way, circumstances do not affect you much, because you know they are transient.

What we should know about you outside work?
I enjoy reading and trying out new recipes. When possible, I like to attend outdoor concerts and engage in way too much retail therapy 😊. I also like to take long walks.

Any achievements or awards?
In 2008 I received the international Student Award for Academic Excellence.

What’s your favorite quote?
My absolute favorite, attributed to Winnie the Pooh, no less is “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think”

Thank you very much Nana for taking your time to do this.

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