By: Awa Conteh
Welcome to another inspiring episode of our Women in STEM column. In this edition, we delve into the remarkable journey of Sohna Huja Jeng, a trailblazing Mechanical Engineer who has recently earned her Master’s degree in Energy and Green Hydrogen. Sohna’s story is not just about academic achievements; it is similar to resilience, passion, and the pursuit of knowledge in the crucial field of sustainable energy.
Join us as we delve into Sohna’s experiences, from her academic pursuits to her insights into green energy. Her story is a beacon for those aspiring to make a meaningful impact in the crucial intersection of technology and sustainability.
Sohna Huja Jeng started her education at the SOS Hermann Gmeiner Junior and Technical Senior Secondary Schools, where she laid the foundation for her academic journey. Motivated by a strong desire to learn, she expanded her academic horizons, ultimately earning a BSc in Mechanical Engineering from the renowned Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana. This educational milestone was the stepping stone for her growing passion in the energy field.
In her commitment to academic excellence, Sohna Huja pursued a Master’s Degree (M.Sc.) in Energy and Green Hydrogen Technology from Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar (UCAD). The initial phase of her M.Sc. journey led her to Abdou Moumini University in Niger, and she had the privilege of conducting research at RWTH Aachen University in Germany.
She actively contributes to cutting-edge research as a Research Assistant at RWTH Aachen University, specifically as the Chair of Management Accounting. Her focus revolves around advancing knowledge in green hydrogen, a crucial component in the transition towards sustainable energy sources. Simultaneously, she is pursuing a Ph.D. at the same esteemed institution, driven by an unyielding curiosity to push the boundaries of knowledge.
Sohna’s professional journey has encompassed diverse experiences, including the automotive industry, where she honed her skills as a Technician in The Gambia, Senegal, and Guinea Conakry. She also played a pivotal role at Oryx Energies, one of The Gambia’s leading petroleum companies, as a Network Planner (Project Manager) and Assistant Retail Manager.
Beyond her professional endeavors, Sohna finds solace and joy in embarking on adventures that broaden her horizons. She also takes delight in the culinary arts, finding creative expression and relaxation in cooking. Her journey, marked by academic rigor, professional growth, and personal passions, remains a dynamic exploration of the intersections of knowledge, technology, and sustainable energy solutions.
From an early age, Ms Jeng’s cherished dream was a career in STEM. Initially inspired by her mother’s pharmaceutical work, she envisioned a path in healthcare. However, her interests took a captivating turn as her high school introduced courses in auto mechanics and applied electricity.
The realization struck—she had discovered her true passion. Embarking on this new-found path, she embraced practical learning by working as an apprentice in automobile garages after completing high school.
Simultaneously, she enrolled in the Motor Vehicle Systems Technician Diploma course at GTTI. At that time, the University of The Gambia did not offer degree programs in Automobile or Mechanical Engineering.
A significant turning point arrived when the ECOWAS Gender Development Centre awarded her the first scholarship for ‘Girls in STEM’ in The Gambia. This allowed her to pursue a B.Sc. in Mechanical Engineering at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.
“Reflecting on this journey, I find profound joy in my chosen career. The decision to follow my passion has been transformative. Pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering aligns with what I love, and the success I’ve achieved underscores the profound truth that genuine passion is a catalyst for success”, she told TAT.
As she progressed through her studies, a transformative shift occurred. Fueled by a growing awareness of Gambia’s substantial energy crisis, she became increasingly drawn to Energy Systems. This shift wasn’t merely an academic choice; it was a conscious decision to contribute to resolving the pressing energy challenges faced by her community and to be a part of building a sustainable future for generations to come. This evolving interest in energy systems marked a pivotal moment in her educational and professional development, aligning her academic pursuits with a broader commitment to addressing real-world challenges.
Sohna’s ongoing research focuses on the water-conscious generation of green hydrogen from arid and semi-arid regions. This is prompted by a significant challenge in hydrogen production—the scarcity of fresh water, especially in locations with abundant renewable energy potentials.
Hydrogen is a global energy carrier widely utilized at an industrial scale. However, its production primarily relies on natural gas and coal, contributing significantly to annual carbon dioxide emissions. This is why hydrogen generated through water electrolysis using renewable energy (Green Hydrogen) plays a crucial role in the ongoing energy transition.
Hydrogen finds application in crude oil refining and ammonia production and is gradually being adopted in various sectors like transportation, building, and power generation. This adoption is expected to contribute significantly to the energy transition since green hydrogen produces no emissions except water when used in fuel cells.
In the present era of heightened environmental awareness and the imperative shift towards sustainable energy, Mechanical Engineers emerge as instrumental architects at the forefront of this transformative journey. Their role transcends traditional boundaries, encompassing diverse responsibilities crucial to steering the world away from fossil fuel dependency.
As analytical thinkers, Mechanical Engineers are adept problem solvers. This inherent skill catalyzes addressing the intricate challenges of the sustainable energy transition. Whether it’s enhancing the efficiency of solar panels or refining energy storage methods, their analytical prowess is a driving force.
In 2015, our esteemed guest played a pivotal role as part of a student team clinched victory in the Ghana Institute of Engineers (GHIE) SADA Calabash Incubation competition. This triumph was rooted in the design and implementation of a technological solution to address Ghana’s pressing issues of waste management and energy.
“This achievement showcased our innovative prowess and underscored our commitment to finding practical solutions to significant environmental challenges,” Ms Jeng said.
As a research assistant and PhD candidate working on hydrogen, Ms Jeng prioritizes continuous research to remain at the forefront of technological advancements. Beyond staying informed, her role involves actively contributing to the dynamic landscape of hydrogen technology. This commitment ensures that her knowledge stays current and relevant and contributes to the ongoing progress in the field. She recommends embracing a proactive approach to learning, cultivating a mindset of continuous curiosity and a hunger for knowledge for anyone who wants to stay updated in any field, particularly STEM.
As a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field like mechanical engineering, Ms Huja has a simple yet profound message to aspiring women engineers: to believe in themselves and refuse to settle for limitations imposed by gender. She challenges them to embrace the mindset that any goal is achievable through hard work and determination and persist until they succeed and make a positive impact. She admits that the journey may face challenges but affirms that those challenges should be stepping stones rather than barriers.
As an executive committee member of Women in STEM Gambia (WiSTEM), Sohna Huja is proud to contribute to an organization leading the charge for inclusivity in STEM fields. WiSTEM is a dynamic force, organizing impactful events such as the recent Annual Conference, where Girls in STEM school chapters and tertiary institution members discussed waste management and climate change solutions. Their monthly seminars spotlight successful women in STEM, aiming to motivate others to venture into these fields by showcasing the tangible achievements of women in The Gambia. WiSTEM is not just an organization; it is a movement empowering women and challenging stereotypes in STEM.
“In whatever engineering domain you choose, be a trailblazer, shatter stereotypes, and inspire others by your resilience and achievements. The world needs your unique perspective and contributions. Believe in your ability to make a difference, and let that belief propel you toward your aspirations”, she said.
As an intensely passionate and dedicated researcher, Ms Jeng’s overarching goal is to contribute meaningfully to developing modern sustainable technology innovations through dedicated research. Her aspirations extend beyond academics; they encompass a commitment to bridging the gap between theory and practical application. By actively engaging in research that translates into tangible innovations, she seeks to contribute to the real-world implementation of sustainable technologies, fostering a seamless integration between academia and industry.
In the male-dominated landscape of STEM fields, mentorship and support networks play a crucial role in women’s success. These mechanisms offer moral support, helping women navigate challenges and providing a sense of empowerment. Mentorship aids women in overcoming hurdles and avoiding pitfalls. Additionally, it is a powerful tool for showcasing possibilities and success, breaking down preconceived barriers. Our phenomenal engineer is no exception.
She has immensely benefited from support and contributed to networks facilitated through mentorship that build a community where women can exchange ideas and celebrate successes, fostering an environment of empowerment and encouragement. In essence, mentorship and support networks are integral in shaping the success trajectories of women in STEM.
The unwavering support of Sohna’s family has been a pillar of her journey, celebrating every success and offering encouragement in times of challenge. Their belief in her abilities constantly motivates her, reinforcing that she can overcome obstacles. This familial support goes beyond mere encouragement; it is a tangible force that strengthens her determination and reminds her that she is not alone in her journey toward personal and professional excellence.
As we conclude this episode, Sohna Huja Jeng’s journey inspires and motivates us. Her dedication to advancing sustainable energy solutions and her academic accomplishments pave the way for a future where green hydrogen takes center stage. Sohna’s story reminds us that women are making significant strides in STEM fields, contributing to academic excellence and the global pursuit of a sustainable and greener tomorrow. We hope Sohna’s experiences resonate with you and encourage the next generation of innovators and problem solvers in renewable energy and STEM.