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“Hey, what’s the answer to this question?” “Just Google it.”
With the endless, unimaginable power of the internet at our fingertips, nearly all our daily questions can be answered without a second thought and we take the internet for granted. Vast amounts of information and technology are readily available to us and have become a necessity in our lives. But what about people who don’t have access to current technology?
Having traveled in India, to countries in Africa and living in Canada, I’ve witnessed varying levels of access to technology across the globe. There is a common misconception that the entirety of a “developing” country has a lack of access to technology, but this isn’t true. What boggles my mind is that within the same borders, two parts of a country can look like day and night in terms of access and proficiency. India and countries in Africa are prime examples. There are huge gaps in technological know-how and capacity around the world – my ultimate goal is to narrow these gaps.
As a first step, I aspire to study more about computers through Cornell Engineering and learn how to broaden the base and demographics of technology users. To date, I have been working with my school to provide OLPCs (low-fidelity laptops) to schools in Africa. We collect broken OLPCs and a group of us volunteer to debug and fix any hardware or software issues with the laptops. Courses at Cornell such as ECE 3150 would provide great insight into how to use microelectronics to build advanced, more durable circuitry that could be used to save costs and physical space in machines.
Improving access requires an additional step. Not only do computers need to be cheaper and more convenient to use, but their use also needs to be taught to large populations for their value to be appreciated. We need to remedy technological illiteracy that is prevalent everywhere. Tutoring resources are required and education systems need to incorporate computer learning even in remote areas. This requires not only engineering experience, but soft skills such as building confidence in kids and a nurturing approach. At school, I have been volunteering with Horizons to help teach inner-city kids the basics of coding. The problem I encounter most often is that some of the kids develop a great knack of coding, but they never know how to apply their skills or hesitate to try something new. Relating this to the bigger issue at hand, even if stranded communities are provided with access to technology, they need a lot of support to get accustomed to its use.
Improving access, therefore, requires not only engineering skills but a business and humanitarian mindset. The collaboration that Cornell encourages between the different schools cultivates a diverse academic environment that will allow me to combine different fields of study. Specifically, through Cornell’s Student Project Teams, I will be able to obtain hands-on experience in collaborating with educators, business students, and engineers from other disciplines. Recently, the Engineering World Health Team at Cornell set out to create a vaccine refrigeration system to prolong the storage life for vaccines in warm climates. These actions resonate with my belief that inter-disciplinary co-operation between computer, chemical, electrical and mechanical engineers is essential to make progress. Being in Cornell’s environment where this synergy is developed will allow for the creation of practical solutions to address real-world problems.
Technology has become the key to economic progress and improving the quality of life around the world. It is a means to empowering individuals and populations. Unless we make technology accessible to our global society, we’re doing a disservice to humanity. The skills, experience, and network I will build as a budding engineer at Cornell will help me in connecting communities across our planet.
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