Brenda Nyakoa had every reason to believe her future lay in the corporate world upon completing a degree in Electrical & Electronics Engineering from the University of Nairobi.

But when the reality of life in a corporate workplace environment set in, Nyakoa — who now holds a fellowship as part of FabLearn, led by TC’s Paulo Blikstein — found herself drawn to education technology, a burgeoning sector that had begun introducing young Kenyans to a “different kind of learning.”

“I saw kids with no hope,” Nyakoa recalls of her early days as a volunteer and intern in a makerspace. “Now, I see their genius.”

The genius emerges in the STEM design workshops and boot camps developed and facilitated by Nyakoa in her capacity as a program associate with Global Minimum, a non-profit that sponsors learning programs in Kenya and Sierra Leone.

The groundswell learning that occurs in these maker education environments represent a distinct departure from the teacher-at-the-front-of-the-room learning that formed the core of Nyakoa's education.

“They are thinking about their abilities, identifying problems and solutions,” she says of the 400-plus high school students attending her workshops and bootcamps. “They are learning to problem solve.”

The problems solved to date include the creation of a microcontroller-based system to regulate an egg incubator serving residents of a rural Kenyan village, a smart greenhouse in their school to grow vegetables, a solar powered wheelchair that helps users to navigate their daily activities with ease, and a mobile application that helps pregnant women to gain access to medical information to reduce stillbirths and other childbirth complications.

These projects, said Nyakoa, exemplifies “students seeing things in their communities that require challenges and solutions.”

Nyakoa meanwhile has embraced a community totally unlike the one she imagined inhabiting as a student at the University of Nairobi.

“There's no going back to the corporate sector,” she says. “But I’m still using my engineering. I'm just applying engineering knowledge in a different way.”

– Steve Giegerich