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TCNJ faculty-led program featured on national Ghana news program

A TCNJ study abroad program recently received television news coverage on GBC — Ghana Broadcasting Company — for their work with a special needs school in the country’s capital.

TCNJ in Ghana is an interdisciplinary faculty-led program in partnership with the Haven School for Special Education in Accra, the capital of Ghana on the Atlantic coast of West Africa.

This spring, 11 undergraduates and two graduate students from a variety of disciplines took part in the 15-day program led by Michele Naples, professor of economics, Jerry Petroff, professor of special education, language, and literacy, and Manuel Figueroa, associate professor of Integrative STEM education.

The TCNJ cohort made the Ghana news when they participated in Community Day at the school, which aimed to promote science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics education among children with special and non-special needs.

Figueroa worked with Haven co-founder and fellow engineer Robert Kumapley of the Port Authority of NY and NJ to provide creative design and STEAM projects to more than 40 neighborhood children.

“We’ve been asking the students a lot of questions, and they’re eager to share their answers,” Figueroa said in the news segment. “They’re very curious already and they’re asking questions, and more importantly they’re getting hands-on activity.”

Sam Akinlolu, a senior engineering major, helped lead one of those activities, which involved building a small “bus stop” out of a manilla folder and tape, experimenting with different designs and shapes to support the roof so that books piled on top would not crush it.

“The goal of this station was to showcase the importance of thinking about, planning, and designing structures that can bear forces from various directions,” Akinlolu said. “A very important part of an engineer’s job is to design safe products, by testing and documenting its rated limits.”

Along with the STEAM activities, Petroff gave a workshop to parents and teachers on communication strategies for children with autism. Naples delivered a workshop on biomedical dietary interventions that help reduce autism symptoms in many children.

“Jerry Petroff and I have been taking students to Haven school and collaborating with our Haven partners since 2017,” Naples said. “Our students have the tremendous opportunity to work and intern in the community, and our Ghanaian Haven partners enjoy our contributions as enriching their program. This unique partnership across continents and Schools (education, business, engineering) allows TCNJ students to experience West Africa while giving back.”

— Emily W. Dodd ’03