By SASHA INGBER*
It was a meeting of nerds and sharks.
The self-described “biotech nerds” and “robotic nerds” were seven high school students from Washington, D.C. The eight teens who call themselves “sharks” and flew in from Ghana. “The shark is a big fish so it means you’re big. Knowledgeable,” explains Stephanie Obbo of Ghana, an aspiring medical doctor.
Together, the 15 high schoolers formed a team for the first World Smarts STEM Challenge. That’s a science competition run by IREX, a global development nonprofit that strives to promote student enthusiasm for science, tech, engineering and math (aka STEM). Each of the 17 teams had teenagers in the D.C. area partnering with Ghanaians to identify and solve a real-world problem. NPR’s Goats and Soda followed “Team McKwiny” — a name that blends D.C.’s McKinley Technology High School and Winneba Senior High School in Ghana.
They had collaborated since September over the internet. The Americans kicked around the idea of minimizing carbon emissions. The Ghanaians wanted to tackle water pollution. They finally agreed to design and build a water purifier.