Zoe Tagbota’s story of self-discovery

October 15, 2018
Inspired by one of her sisters who had been diagnosed as hard-of-hearing, Zoe Tagbota ’20 had a career goal to become an ENT specialist. However, when her two-year pre-med program at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada was canceled and replaced with a four-year program, Zoe felt the need to research other options.

“I felt that exploring other fields of study before pursuing medicine would be more beneficial than four years of pre-med,” she said. “And after checking out a list of schools, Ashesi made sense to me.” Initially studying Business Administration as her major, Zoe made the switch to Computer Science when she took Programming; a required course for all freshmen at Ashesi. “I just fell in love with it and couldn’t give it up,” she shared.

Over time, she developed an interest in Robotics which led her to reassess her career goals.

“Learning how technology interacts with the physical environment made me realize I could better contribute to solving hearing problems from a tech angle,” she shared. “Most people who are hard-of-hearing have sensory neural hearing loss meaning that speech becomes incomprehensible for them at specific frequencies. In my sister’s case, she can understand speech when spoken at low frequencies but not at high or medium frequencies. Unfortunately, current hearing aids only amplify sound, rather than clarity, so she cannot use them. And I felt I could best contribute towards improving hearing aids as a biomedical engineer, so patients can hear better without having to get a cochlear implant.”

Encouraged by Dr. Korsah, head of Robotics at Ashesi, Zoe applied for the Google Women TechMakers Scholarship; an initiative by Google to support women in tech with resources and community to help them develop their skillsets and careers. Selected as one of the top 20 applicants from across Europe, Middle East and Africa, Zoe received a scholarship of 7,000 euros towards her education and a fully funded trip to the Google TechMakers summit in London.

“It was tough applying because I heard about it on the day of the deadline, but it was worth it.” she shared. “As part of the application, we had to write four essays, including some technical ones which I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do if I hadn’t taken Dr. Korsah’s Robotics class.”

In addition to the Women TechMaker’s scholarship, Zoe has received other scholarships and attended programs including the Melton Fellowship, the Grace Hopper celebration held in the U.S, as well as the Norman Foster Foundation’s Robotics Atelier, to be held in Paris. She is also involved in some clubs and activities on campus including the Robotics club, mentoring for the Ashesi Innovation Experience, serving as the general secretary of the Ashesi Student council, and teaching sign language at Tech for the Deaf.

“I hope to create a community of females in tech; I believe this will improve the retention of women in computer science. It’s hard to explain how or why but sitting in a conference room with all those women, was motivating. Seeing women like you who have succeeded; women finishing their PhDs; women in the industry who have achieved amazing things give you hope that you can also get there. Even though it is not financially possible for a lot of people to go, it is possible to create a community like that here so that they are aware of opportunities that are available.”

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