Growing up in Ghana, Kwame Ohene-Adu, a 23-year-old hardware engineer, learned to be disciplined at a young age. He moved away from his family at age 14 to attend boarding school in the coastal city of Tema. “I interacted with people there from all over the continent and a good part of the world,” Ohene-Adu says of the experience, “and the rigor of the academics put me in a great position.” After graduation, he decided to move to the United States to attend Dartmouth College. There, he managed to earn two bachelor’s degrees in engineering fields in just four years, instead of the usual five.
Ohene-Adu says studying at Dartmouth was an amazing experience. One of the best parts, he says, was an opportunity he received the summer after his junior year to join FreshAir Sensor Corporation, a startup being developed at the school to commercialize a cutting edge sensor technology invented by Joseph BelBruno, a prominent chemistry professor at the school. When Ohene-Adu joined FreshAir, the company was operating out of a small room at the Tuck Business School. Its sensor, now a Wi-Fi enabled device capable of instantly alerting users to unwanted marijuana and cigarette smoke, was a simple collection of wires on a breadboard. “Working there was a great reinforcement for me,” Ohene-Adu says, “I realized then how much I actually knew about engineering, and how much I could offer to the firm.”
The company’s founder, Jack O’Toole, says what Ohene-Adu offered was invaluable. Ohene-Adu played the lead role developing the circuit board that read the sensor and interpreted its signals for users. Without his help and breakthroughs, O’Toole says, the company likely wouldn’t be as far along as it is today. FreshAir is releasing its sensor to the public this summer, and already has had more than 500 businesses express interest in using it, including nursing homes, schools, and hotels, interested in detecting unwanted smoke.
But despite all that Ohene-Adu has accomplished for the firm, it’s unclear whether he will be able to stay to help FreshAir for the long term. He graduated Dartmouth last summer, and is applying for an H-1B visa this year so he can continue working as the company’s Chief Hardware Engineer. This year, the government has received such a large volume of applications, it is predicted that more than half of visa applications won’t be successful. “I am very nervous,” Ohene-Adu says, “But I’m trying to stay positive and confident about the whole thing.” O’Toole says that losing Ohene-Adu at this point—after he’s amassed so much specialized, esoteric knowledge in the sensor field—would be nothing short of crushing. If Ohene-Adu doesn’t get a visa before his OPT period runs out, O’Toole says, “I plan to continue working with him remotely until I can find a way to bring him back to us.”