Empower teachers (ETT), a program launched at MIT in 2011, is helping to change the face of engineering education in Nigerian universities. The program brings talented Nigerian scholars at the postdoctoral level to MIT for an immersive, semester-long experience, then returns them to the field to teach, research, and assume influential leadership roles in their higher education system.
So far, 96 scholars have participated in the program. Amir Bature, a fall 2019 MIT-ETT fellow, is one of them. The lecturer at Bayero University Kano says: “The first thing I learned at MIT was that every course should have a clear objective. If a student successfully completes a course, they should also be able to use their knowledge to ultimately work in the industry as an engineer. It’s not just about passing an exam.
As a former British colony, Nigeria’s university structure remains based on the British system in which students’ full grades are determined by a single final examination. Students learn theory during the first two years and generally do not do practical engineering design work until their final year of university.
One of the key lessons that Bature and his colleagues brought back to Nigeria is the approach of scheduling a course to provide ongoing opportunities for learning and assessment through weekly problem sets, labs, post- laboratories and design projects.
Nigerian students put theory into practice
Back home, Bature structured his classes based on what he had observed at MIT, pairing each course with a lab that allowed students to apply concepts learned in Python coding to design simulations.
Two of Bature’s students, Khadija Garo and Ruqayyah Nabage, went the extra mile by designing a project to innovate on the Nigerian auto rickshaw known as a keke. This taxi-like vehicle transports workers and students through the crowded streets of northern Nigeria.
The keke only contains a steering and transmission system. Bature students added a tracking system to let drivers know when they need to change their oil and fuel, as well as GPS to provide a navigation system making travel more efficient. The two are currently in talks with an investor about seed funding to begin production.
Bature shares, “To now be able to teach in a way that takes students from theory to practice and see them solve real problems is a huge thing. »
Significant grantmaking and collaborative research initiatives
Director of the ETT Faculty Tayo Akinwande, professor of engineering and computer science at MIT, founded the program and personally mentors each cohort. He explains: “The program is extremely practical in nature. » Each fellow audits two MIT classes that are taking parallel courses that they have previously taught in Nigeria. This basic mastery of the subject gives them the opportunity to make an in-depth comparison between the way the subject is taught at their home institution and at the Institute.
At MIT, fellows also learn how to choose research topics, write a successful grant proposal, and collaborate on projects with colleagues at other academic institutions.
For Spring 2019 MIT-ETT Fellow David Obada, this training was invaluable. Obada joined the university remotely from Atlantic Technological University (ATU) in Ireland, where he is a postdoctoral fellow and involved in a teaching project.
Obada is the Outreach Coordinator of the African Center of Excellence on New Pedagogies in Engineering Education at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria. With funding from the World Bank, Obada and his colleagues developed a new pedagogy to improve collaborative work among students in peer-led tutorials in materials science. They presented their results in June 2023 at the American Society for Engineering Education conference.
In Ireland, Obada is building a program to allow a Nigerian postgraduate student to spend a semester at ATU to test how teaching is influenced by project-based learning. “This idea is a direct result of my time at MIT,” he says.
Having “a very big impact” in the industry
From the beginning, ETT has been made possible with generous funding from TotalEnergies and coordinated by the Center for International Studies (CIS) at MIT. CIS supports and promotes global research and education at the Institute.
Evi Ifekwa, Executive Director of People and Country Services for TotalEnergies EP Nigeria, said: “Our motivation to get involved and maintain our involvement was to identify the opportunity to contribute to the modernization of engineering education in Nigerian universities. She has enthusiastically watched Nigerian women STEM pioneers emerge from MIT-ETT and make strides in the field. “For example, Toyin Odutola, a 2020 fellow who created Nigeria’s first hydrate loop, and Ronke Sakpere, a 2022 fellow who is equipping Nigerian women with computer programming skills,” Ifekwa muses.
Yoav Danenburg, ETT Managing Director, observed that fellows gain a new, purposeful mindset during their semester at the Institute. He says, “Weekly meetings and visits to MIT labs inspire our students to strive for change and strive very diligently to implement what they learned at MIT at their home institutions , navigating local politics along the way. »
Victor Odumuyiwa was a member of the first MIT-ETT 2013 cohort and is now the Director of NITHub at the University of Lagos. In the decade since MIT-ETT launched, he and his colleagues have progressed in their careers to become decision-makers and leaders – but also problem solvers. When Covid-19 struck, they came together to design a toolkit for emergency ventilators using materials available in Nigeria.
He says: “I have certainly witnessed the birth of an active network of fellows. We can have a very significant impact on the industry over the next five to ten years and profoundly change its direction.
Young Nigerian scholars have the opportunity to apply to become MIT-ETT Fellows by submitting a written application. Finalists are interviewed in person by a committee in Nigeria twice a year. For more information visit: ett.mit.edu.