Planting a seed
Shell engineer brings S.T.E.M. education and resources to West Africa
Dadie Conducting S.T.E.M experiment with students at a Local Middle School in St. Charles Parish
Ghislain Dadie remembers when he was 17 years old, living in the Ivory Coast in West Africa, taking his final exam to enter college. He looked at the globe in the classroom.
“I told my friend, ‘I am going to this country called the United States to study engineering,’” Dadie recalls.
He admits that it was a long-shot. He didn’t speak English, just his native French.
“I was a young African boy and had never been to the United States. I didn’t know anyone there. My friend started laughing at me and said, ‘You’ve lost your mind.’”
But Dadie was determined. He saved lunch money in order to go to a nearby internet café to learn about American universities.
“I Google-translated everything from my French language,” he said.
He came upon the University of Washington in Seattle, and requested more information.
“Three months later, I’m in a classroom and the principal calls my name. He has a big envelope and says, ‘You have mail.’ It was the University of Washington’s information package. It was the best day of my life,” he recalls.
The excitement was short-lived, however. Through an English translator, he discovered that it cost nearly $50,000 to attend.
“It was a dream crusher,” he said. “I packed away my envelope and said, ‘For this dream, I’ll have to wait a little bit.’”
Dadie enrolled in a local college in a pre-engineering program, with his eye on the prize of moving to the United States.
He made money any way he could for a plane ticket, including buying clothes and shoes from a flea market and reselling them. In three years, he had saved $1,000.
Dadie’s father knew someone in New York, who said Dadie could sublet a bedroom in his apartment. Dadie got approved for a student visa and left for New York in 2002.
“I had to teach myself English and enroll in college,” he said.
Dadie worked several jobs when he arrived in New York, including working as a stock boy at a furniture store and delivering newspapers, all the while taking classes at City College of New York.
While it was a challenge to find work with his limited language skills and balance work with college, Dadie said, “I learned you have to be hard-working and resilient. You have to have a self-drive and want to be successful. That’s the only way to survive. If you can survive New York City, you can survive everywhere.”
Dadie continued to pursue engineering at City College, a field he both excelled in and enjoyed.
“I always had the love for creativity and designing things,” he said. “What I loved about chemical engineering is that you are taking things that are less desirable and making them more desirable.”
He explains, “A crude oil engineer takes a product that has no value and turns it into something more desirable. You make crude oil into gasoline; the end user can now use it and drive the car.”
“A water treatment engineer takes water that is not drinkable and turns it into water that is drinkable. I like to make things better by solving problems and making an environment better.”
When he was a junior in college, he became the president of the Students of Chemical Engineers society and successfully applied for an internship at a local chemical company.
LEFT: Dadie writing a plan for crude oil exchanger leak repair. RIGHT: Dadie posing with elementary school village kids in Ivory Coast West Africa.
When he graduated from the City College in 2009, he was offered a job at that chemical company facility in Plaquemines Parish.
“It was very exciting to be a crude oil (petroleum) engineer. Moving to Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana was quite a culture change to move from a fast-paced city to a calm, laid-back place.”
He said the people and culture in Louisiana were much more familiar.
“The culture here is very similar to Africa. There’s a welcoming environment, lots of family time,” he said.
Dadie then got an opportunity to work for Shell Oil and moved to Baton Rouge and today is an operations support engineer at the Shell Convent Refinery. While shopping at a grocery store in Baton Rouge, he met a woman named Sabrina who would later become his wife. The couple lives in Hahnville with their two-year-old son.
“It’s all because I followed that dream,” he said.
Planting a seed
Dadie has taken his life experience and started the ProSeed, a non-proft that helps students in West Africa live their dream.
“My wife and I went back to the Ivory Coast and I saw a need to help other young African kids in school,” he said. “I thought, ‘What can I do to bring about change?’”
The idea came on when watching the movie The Martian, where the main character creates an environment for sustenance and growth from a tiny seed.
The ProSeed Foundation launched in 2013, with a mission to give hope through education by building schools in West Africa, awarding high-achieving students and promoting S.T.E.M. education.
“We built a 2,000 square foot playground; these kids had never used a swing, never learned how to slide, how to use the merry-go-round. Within two weeks, enrollment tripled. Villagers wanted to take kids to school instead of the farms,” Dadie said.
He also saw children in school were crowding on benches that were falling apart. His vision was to replace them all.
LEFT: A classroom at a school ProSeed will begin rebuilding, starting in September 2017, for the children of Dibikro Village Ivory Coast West Africa. RIGHT: Dadie posing with the Village chief and local teachers at Dibikro Village.
He recruited sponsors stateside—more than half of the donations came from his colleagues at Shell Oil—and was able to replace 110 school benches. Each donor has a tag with their name on the seat.
Dadie made sure to keep all the work local.
“We provided local craft people with a job. Their biggest contract was for those 110 benches, and it employed eight people who now have resources to send their kids to school.”
Building for the future
In addition to building projects, Dadie also implemented a program to reward students for academic excellence and promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (S.T.E.M.) education.
“We purchase school supplies for the top students each year as an incentive to be the best and to strive,” he said. Top achieving students are also given an academic award; it’s named in honor of Dadie’s father.
Dadie uses his engineering experience to get kids excited about S.T.E.M. careers.
“I do a leadership workshop with an inspirational speech in my native language,” he said. “I want them to be geared toward innovation. We built a citrus battery from local oranges to power a calculator. Students are really excited and engaged.”
Once Dadie saw the impact on students, he expanded the ProSeed Foundation to other villages inWest Africa.
“I saw another village 70 miles from the village where we were, and I talked to the village chief and asked to see the school,” he said. “It had dirt floors and a metal roof. When it rains, the kids have to stop learning. I told the chief, ‘I’ll see what we can do to help.’”
Dadie and the ProSeed Foundation will return to the village in September 2017 to build an entire new school with bathrooms and ball fields using local carpenters and workers.
The entire project will cost $50,000. Dadie has started a fundraising campaign; donors can buy a brick for the new school for $5. If someone buys more than 21 bricks, they will get their name engraved on the building.
Dadie is continually motivated by the positive impact on the students.
“We got testimonials that because of the academic excellence award, the junior high school success rate went from 55 percent to 75 percent. Students are motivated and want to excel,” he said.
“I have a vision to change the environment in which the students are learning and make it conducive for success. I can give students hope that they, too, can be whatever they want to be— president, engineer, a doctor—because I was once one of those children.”
To learn more about ProSeed, visit www.proseedfoundation.org, or follow @ProSeed on Facebook .
- Jenny Peterson