Baran Mensah Finds Joy in College Life Abroad

Baran Mensah, a senior at MIT, discovered his passion for engineering at a young age. While growing up in Ghana, he was fascinated by taking apart his toys to understand how they worked. This curiosity led him to pursue a major in mechanical engineering and a minor in music at MIT. Additionally, Mensah has been involved in various extracurricular activities, including leadership roles in the Chocolate City living group, performing with MIT’s Afro-Caribbean dance group, and being a member of the Rho Nu chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.

Mensah’s dedication to research internships has been diverse. In his first year, he worked as a residential facilitator for MIT’s Interphase EDGE program, which supports incoming MIT students. He also contributed to the development of a software toolkit for K-12 students in the field of soft robotics at Harvard University. Most recently, he completed a missions operations internship at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, working on command automation for the SWOT satellite.

After graduation, Mensah plans to pursue graduate studies in mechanical engineering, specializing in robotics hardware. He has a particular interest in legged and biomimetic robots. While he remains open to new opportunities, he hopes to contribute to improving socioeconomic conditions in Ghana using his engineering skills.

MIT News interviewed Mensah to gain insight into his student life.

Q: What is your area of focus in mechanical engineering?

A: I am specifically interested in robotics. I find joy in working with hardware controlled by innovative software. While soft robotics is intriguing, I am open to exploring different branches. One project that fascinated me involved a swimming robot that mimicked fish swimming using electromagnetic actuation and soft robotics.

I am particularly excited about robots like MIT’s cheetah and those developed by Boston Dynamics. These projects intersect multiple disciplines, including mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science, and biology. I am drawn to projects that combine diverse subject areas.

Q: Tell us about your involvement in campus communities.

A: My primary community is Chocolate City at MIT, which provides a welcoming environment for many individuals. With around 30 members, we foster close friendships and encourage active participation within the community.

I am also part of Sakata Afrique, an Afro-Caribbean dance group. Although I never expected to engage in dancing, it has become a significant part of my life. Being part of an Afro-Caribbean dance group allows me to showcase and celebrate my culture.

Furthermore, I am a member of the Rho Nu chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. This fraternity, established for African American men, extends its services to multiple universities. Through this fraternity, I have connected with diverse individuals outside of MIT and acquired valuable personal growth experiences.

Q: Share some memorable moments from your time with these groups.

A: One of my favorite memories with Chocolate City was the first party we organized in February 2021. We needed to revitalize the group, and seeing hundreds of people attending the event made me realize the impact we were making. It was a significant achievement, especially as it was my first experience marketing such a large-scale event.

For Sakata, a highlight was our show called Afro Shake. Right before going on stage, I experienced a mix of emotions. My co-choreographer and I had dedicated a year to prepare for this performance, and it was the culmination of our hard work.

In my fraternity, we organized a poetry event in February of last year. Witnessing the enjoyment and learning experienced by attendees was incredibly fulfilling. It was our first program, and the positive outcome validated the effort we put into it.

Q: How did you manage your time with all of these commitments and your studies?

A: Time management is crucial. As my schedule became busier, I had to carefully plan every hour, including lunch breaks. If I only had a limited time window for completing an assignment, I made sure to make the most of it. It was challenging, but it taught me valuable lessons. We often have more time than we realize, and it’s essential to optimize it strategically.

Q: What do you do in your free time?

A: Dancing occupies much of my free time. Whenever possible, I also engage in workouts. Additionally, as a music minor, I frequently play the guitar. It serves as an outlet and helps broaden my musical repertoire, exposing me to different genres.

Q: Have you been pursuing a music minor throughout your undergraduate years?

A: No, when I first joined MIT, I intended to concentrate on Spanish for my humanities, arts, and social sciences requirement because of my background in Spanish language studies. However, upon discovering the wealth of music classes available, I decided to pursue a music minor. It was something I had always wanted to explore, but opportunities were limited until now. In life, sometimes it’s beneficial not to have a specific plan and remain open to new possibilities.

Q: Do you envision returning to Ghana in the future?

A: Yes, I do hope to return to Ghana and contribute to socioeconomic upliftment. My vision involves establishing a foundation that offers access to innovative technology for solving complex issues and providing affordable, high-quality education opportunities. Although I am still unsure of the exact approach, each day brings me closer to defining the path forward. My friend Wilhem Hector has played a significant role in inspiring me to drive change in this manner.

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