“We traveled to Kenya, stood on top of a hill … with an antenna in one hand, waving a wand (to test for Internet). … And once we realized, ‘Oh my gosh, we have a signal here.’ We then realized we could go back and actually turn this into something real.”

Meet Rama Mwenesi, a senior studying industrial and operations engineering. Mwenesi is the co-founder of E-MAGINE, a multidisciplinary organization that works to provide Internet access to rural, marginalized populations across the world.

“Our primary goal is education and entrepreneurship,” Mwenesi said. “To help teachers help students by providing them with access to educational resources through the Internet. All along I’ve known that just to be able to come up with this idea, none of that would have happened if I didn’t have the education I had.”

Inspired by a Google challenge as a freshman, Mwenesi delved into the task of finding a way to provide connectivity to off-the-grid populations around the world. Today, E-MAGINE has built seven systems, with six deployed in four different countries: Kenya, Sierra Leone, Brazil and Zambia. What began as an idea has now become a full-fledged reality.

“Everyone has a good idea, but the question is how do you measure the impact of your work? Whatever we do, we wanted our work to mean something.”

This past summer, Mwenesi learned firsthand how E-MAGINE’s work has affected African rural populations. Mwenesi traveled back to the community centers in Kenya — the country where he grew up — and gathered testimonials to see how people’s lives had been impacted by the new Internet systems. He found citizens gathering information on farming techniques, agriculture and weather cycles with their new Internet connectivity. Students also used the system to apply to colleges and government jobs.

“Seeing what we set out to do has accomplished more than we imagined, no pun intended. That was a great feeling for all of us — seeing that we’ve done something. We’ve impacted people’s lives. And while we impact their lives, our lives are being impacted too.”

In addition to E-MAGINE, Mwenesi has taught design engineering through the University’s IDEA Institute and is active in the Muslim Students’ Association. He is also captain and vice president of the University’s men’s boxing team and involved with Rotaract service club.

When asked what he likes to do in his free time — when he finds it — he said getting back into piano playing, super-bike racing and flying airplanes.

“Those are all things I would like to do in my life. But my true passion, my favorite hobby, is just sitting and thinking. Contemplating. That’s what I love to do. Just sit down and think of ways to optimize everything.”

Regarding his future plans, Mwenesi answers with the same calmness. He talks about taking time to find where his talent and passions intersect and what the world truly needs. The uncertainty of the future isn’t what scares him.

“I’m more afraid of killing that potential to be who I was supposed to be.”

Mwenesi is humbled by his selection as a Student of the Year.

“To be recognized, one is appreciative. But, I hope through this other people can realize impossible is nothing. With true and sincere intentions, great things can come out of it.”

Here are the other Students of the Year.

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