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Beauclaire Mbanya

mbanya portraitClass of 2020
Major: Chemical engineering
Challenge: Make Solar Energy Affordable

Beauclaire, an African Leadership Academy graduate from Cameroon, is passionate about facilitating access to renewable energy alternatives.

His experiences while at the University of Rochester have helped him address his Grand Challenge of making solar energy affordable. For example:

  • He participated in the Merit360 program in Chester, United Kingdom where Ihe worked with a diverse group in addressing United Nations SDG 7 goal of ensuring that everyone has access to affordable, reliable, and modern energy services by the year 2030.
  • From that program, he co-founded CareforSeven, an organization focused on training more than 40 underprivileged high school students from electricity-deprived areas in Nigeria on how to build a solar charger. The organization also empowers students with entrepreneurial skills to monetize the chargers for their communities. 
  • As a Xerox Research Scholar during the summer of 2018 Beauclaire investigated the influence of different electrolytes (substances that conduct electricity) on the performance of a Lithium-Bismuth liquid metal battery. This kind of battery is key in addressing problems of energy storage in solar grids.

He also was awarded a Davis Projects for Peace grant in 2019 to pursue a program he designed to promote restorative justice education in Yaoundé, Cameroon, working with internally displaced women as well as imprisoned violent offenders.

And in 2020 he was the first Rochester student chosen to be a Schwarzman Scholar as an undergraduate. He will attend the Schwarzman Scholars Program at Tsinghua University in China, learning about global energy policies as well as groundbreaking solar energy approaches being implemented in Asia. In doing so he hopes to develop a deeper understanding of the elements of China’s economic success—particularly those pertaining to infrastructure—and how he might apply them to Cameroon and Africa at large.

Here’s a Q&A with Beauclaire about his participation in the Grand Challenges Scholars Program:

Q. Why did you decide to apply for the Grand Challenges Program?

Over the last few years, I have always learned about renewable sources and their awesome benefits while being consistently reminded of the energy crisis on the African continent and the world at large. I then decided to apply for the Grand Challenges Program to work on my passion to facilitate access to renewable energy alternatives. Therefore, I am driven by the need to impact the global energy landscape and as well as contribute to humanity.

Q. Which of the five competencies did you most enjoy completing? Why?

I really enjoyed the global dimension competency the most. I participated in the Merit360 program in Chester, United Kingdom where I worked with a diverse group in addressing United Nations SDG 7- ensuring everyone has access to affordable, reliable, and modern energy services by the year 2030. From that program, I co-founded CareforSeven, an organization focused on educating youths on how to develop solar energy powered devices. Working in this organization was an enriching experience as I learned the global challenges that arise from implementing energy solutions in different countries. I was to develop a holistic understanding of the non-engineering factors that influence making solar energy accessible.

Q. Are there things you learned while completing the competencies that you would not have learned in a classroom or lab? For example?

Working on my Service competency, I engaged on a project focused on providing phyco-social and economic support to internally displaced women from crisis affected regions. During my time working on this project, I was enlightened to discover that renewable energy has the potential to be a healing platform for the displaced women. The ability of these victims to learn how to build solar energy devices or use solar energy to power their communities could be vital for them in overcoming their trauma of the past. 

Q. After you graduate, do you think you will want to continue to work or pursue graduate studies in the same field as the challenge you tackled? How will you do that?

After graduation, I would continue working in this field but with a different focus. I will be attending the Schwarzman Scholars Program at the Tsinghua University in China. I would be learning the global energy policies as well as the groundbreaking solar energy approaches being implemented in Asia.

Q. How did being at the UR help you complete this program?

I am grateful to the University of Rochester for providing the different resources to complete this program. The endless opportunities at the University enabled me to participate in the Xerox Research Engineering Fellowship in Professor Douglas H. Kelley’s lab. Thereafter, I was privileged to win the 2019 Davis Project for Peace grant to run an empowerment program for internally displaced women. Funding from the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship and the Enrollment office helped me to run the Bright Hands Initiative in Nigeria, thus enabling me to fulfill the program’s entrepreneurial experience competency.

Q. What is the value of the Grand Challenges program for a student?

The Grand Challenge program encourages students to discover new areas of interest. It makes students appreciate the relevance of engineering solutions to humanity. Upon the completion of the program, the student would be able to connect the dots in the respective fields via the different competencies. At the end of the program, the student is then equipped to have a multifaceted solution-oriented mindset to address 21st century challenges as well as contribute to the good of humanity.