Brian Mukeswe: From Kisubi to UBC

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One June day in 2012, the six members of a high school robotics club in Uganda were deep in thought. A national technology and innovation competition was coming up, and they needed a cool project to submit.

Idea after idea was shot down, until one of the boys finally made a suggestion that excited all of them: How about a robotic car? Could they make one themselves from scratch?

As it turned out, they could. In just five months, Brian Mukeswe and his clubmates built a model smart hybrid car out of things they found in their lab: sensors, motors, solar panels, pieces of metal, a Lego Mindstorms kit. Their creation not only won the competition, but also secured them internships at Ugandan car company Kiira Motors Corporation, the developer of East Africa’s first hybrid vehicle (the Kiira EV SMACK).

Working at Kiira Motors was a defining experience for Brian, confirming his passion for engineering — electrical engineering, in particular. But he always knew he wanted a university education, so in 2013 Brian made the biggest decision of his life thus far: to leave home, travel halfway around the world and study electrical engineering and commerce at UBC. This was made possible by The MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program, which supports young women and men from economically disadvantaged communities who have demonstrated academic talent, leadership potential and a commitment to improving those communities. (UBC is one of nine North American universities to partner with The MasterCard Foundation in the Scholars Program.)

Fast forward four years, and Brian has more than fulfilled the promise of his earlier days. In addition to serving as president of the UBC Africa Awareness Initiative, co-director of the UBC African Business Forum and community animator at the Simon K.Y. Lee Global Lounge and Resource Centre, he has won numerous awards and conducted research that may have a significant positive impact on the environment and low-income communities.

One of Brian’s projects — a 2016 finalist in the prestigious nationwide Sunnybrook Research Prize competition — aimed to develop hearing aids that are powered by body heat alone, eliminating the need for expensive batteries. Another, conducted in UBC’s Advanced Materials and Process Engineering Laboratory, investigated the potential for solar photovoltaic technologies like solar irrigation to help East Africa meet its energy needs.

“I have found fulfilment in seeing opportunities where I initially perceived challenges,” Brian has said. An incoming junior engineer at Midgard Consulting Inc in Vancouver, Brian plans to pursue a career in social entrepreneurship, using his engineering and business experience to help give Africa reliable access to electricity — and hopefully kickstart an energy market there in the process. 

 

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