Kwadwo Sarpong arrived in the United States from Ghana in 2009 to work as a hospital cleaner . He got a green card to come to the U.S. and was already a first-year university student in Ghana. So, his idea was to transfer to a four-year school in the U.S. straight away.
But things didn’t go as planned for him. When he arrived U.S., he realized that transferring to a four-year institution in the U.S. was virtually impossible and he needed to take care of himself and his family back home in Ghana, so for his first three years in the U.S., he cleaned hospital floors and also worked at Walmart.
He met a physician, who advised him on what would change his life for the better as regards studying at the community college level which he later enrolled as a student of the college.
A professor subsequently urged Sarpong to go for an eight-week summer research program which partnered with Georgia State University. He had the chance to study breast cancer during the program, and explored “the modification of certain drugs through an organic chemistry synthesis,” he said. He soon found his passion for research thanks to the program.
And with his research experience at the community college level, he transferred to Emory University in 2013. As he was doing neuroscience research at Emory, he stumbled across statistics about women in STEM, particularly in African countries, and how they are largely underrepresented in the sciences. There and then, he knew he wanted to do something about it.
He sought help from his classmates, and together, they conducted a survey in Ghana and found that most women in the sciences had no knowledge about non-medical career opportunities in STEM fields. “Most women had no idea that you could get a PhD in biochemistry or have your own lab,” he said. “They only thought of the medical aspect.”
The survey findings inspired him to co-found the African Research Academies for Women (ARAW), a nonprofit organization that helps Ghanaian women pursue careers in STEM outside of medicine. Sarpong, who was now CEO of ARAW, helped bring in place the first fully funded eight-week summer research program in Ghana that allows undergraduate students to gain professional development and practical skills in the sciences.
In 2015, Sarpong graduated with a degree in neuroscience and behavioral biology from Emory University in 2015 but he decided to postpone medical studies to focus fully on ARAW.
“I wanted this nonprofit to last, so I decided to take off two years to focus on it,” he said.
His commitment to his nonprofit throughout college and after yielded good results. Sarpong was invited to the White House by President Barack Obama for the United States-Africa Leaders Summit in 2014. There, he met with some cabinet members to discuss research, and the invitation helped ARAW gain support and become more popular.
Receiving an email to the summit not too long after starting his organization was surprising to Sarpong. “At first I thought it was a scam so I ignored it, but after contacting an official from Ghana I realized it was not a scam, and actually gained the opportunity again to attend, so I did,” Sarpong said
While working with his organisation, Sarpong knew that he needed to focus on himself and continue his education and also fulfill his dreams to study medicine, he came to Georgetown in 2017 through the Georgetown Experimental Medical Studies (GEMS) program. Through the program, he learned the skills he needed to apply to medical schools including Georgetown.
Today, Sarpong, who was the only member of his family to move to the United States from Ghana, is grateful for how far he has come and for being able to impact the lives of others.
And after hard work and dedication, he is going to be a neurosurgeon, making him the first physician in his family, he said.