He told the BBC’s Exchanges at the Frontier programme aired Sunday January 25, 2015 that the myth around maths as a difficult subject can be broken with persistent practice.
“I get really upset when people say maths is difficult because believe me these kids practise their dance moves for hours and they don’t practise math so I ask you: ‘If you don’t practise your dance moves or whatever you are doing, your soccer, how are you going to get better at it?’”
Dr Trebi-Ollenu is currently growing Africa’s next generation of scientists through a project called RISE –Robotics-Inspired Science Education, which he started in home country a few years ago.He told a live audience that he tries to engage African students through his robotics expertise to make them appreciate mathematics and science as subjects worth pursuing, while at the same time, demystifying the myth that only smart people can pursue mathematics or science subjects.
“We started with a few hundred students, now we have thousands of students and this thousands of students, we’re just not interested in numbers, we interested in people pursuing STEM [Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics] education, STEM carriers.
“So that’s what we’ve been doing. It’s been very successful: it’s kind of outgrown our projections and it’s very exciting that kids are able to take their science theory and know that they can be able to use it to solve everyday problems.
Through RISE, Dr Trebi-Ollenu is hoping to close the gender-gap in STEM education on the Continent, starting from his home country Ghana.
“This year, one of our teams, the girls’ team, was the best girls team in a high school for the whole about 47 countries and that’s pretty exciting.
“And the goal is trying to encourage more girls to pursue STEM, especially girls. In our programmes 50 percent of the participants are girls.
“What we did was we gave them [girls] the opportunity, most of the time girls are not given the opportunity to get into science, so we actively go to the schools and we make science fun. We take the mystery out of it.”
Dr Trebi-Ollennu (FIET, FRAeS, SMIEEE, PMP) is a Group Lead and Robotics Engineer at the NASA-Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena, CA and a Fellow of the IET (U.K.), a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society, U.K., a Senior Member of the IEEE and Certified Project Management Professional (PMP).
Dr. Trebi-Ollennu received the 2008 NASA Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal for his contributions to the Mars Exploration Rover mission, 2007 Outstanding Engineer Award from IEEE Region 6, 2007 Sir Monty Finniston Achievement Medal from Institution of Engineering and Technology, U.K., and 2010 Specialist Silver Award from the Royal Aeronautical Society, U.K.
Dr. Trebi-Ollennu is also a recipient of a dozen NASA Group Achievement Awards (FIDO, MER & Phoenix) and over half a dozen major NASA Space Act Awards.
He currently works on the InSight Mission as an Instrument Deployment Systems Engineer and MSL (Curiosity Rover) as a Robotic Arm Systems Engineer.
In 2016 the Mars Rover InSight will land on the Red Planet, drill down into its core and analyse the structure. This data should provide a unique insight into planetary evolution. Dr Trebi-Ollenu has been in the thick of affairs on that project.