The Ashesi Innovation Experience (AIX) is an annual two-week immersive enrichment program at Ashesi University College in Ghana, dedicated to inspiring and challenging high school students and helping them develop skills in design thinking, leadership, entrepreneurship and robotics.
Building on a week of design-thinking and leadership activities, the robotics module in the second week of AIX is designed to introduce students to engineering and computer science, to inspire them to pursue higher education in these or related fields, and ultimately to expand the pool of promising young technologists from the developing world who can join the ranks of creators, rather than simply consumers, of innovative technological solutions.
The robotics module includes robot building and programming challenges, short lectures, videos, discussions, guest speakers, a field trip, and career discussions. The primary tools used are Lego robotics kits and RobotC, a text-based programming language. An important feature of the program is the participation of carefully selected and trained university student mentors, who serve as tutors, coaches, role models and friends to the participants, living with them and working with them inside and outside the classroom.
The highlight of the second week is when students are presented with a final challenge related to a real-world problem relevant to Ghana. The students work in teams to build and program robots to address this challenge, and participate in a competition during the open house on the final day. Previous challenges have included a mock pineapple harvesting challenge, a navigation and demolition challenge, and a port-automation challenge.
A key lesson learned from AIX so far has been the value of integrating leadership and design thinking with the robotics program, and another has been the value of having well trained university students work closely as mentors with the high school students. The impact of the program is summed up by two of the AIX 2014 participants: “I believe this camp will help to create a person who would in the long run, ensure the development of his country and the world at large,” and “There would be more ethical and innovative leaders (young people) in Ghana if there were more AIXs.”