To Compete or To Complete? That is the Question.

Dr. G. Ayorkor Korsah (née Mills-Tettey) and I shared many hearty laughs at the VIP lounge after Ashesi University’s impressively inspiring commencement ceremony last Saturday, June 3, 2023. She is a Senior Lecturer in Computer Science and Robotics, and as department head, Computer Science & Information Systems, she was in her element dolling out degrees to deserving graduates. But we have a 28-year history of rivalry.

This wasn’t our first meeting. Nearly three decades ago, in 1995, we were impassioned opponents. Each of us was part of a trio representing our high schools in the semi-final of the Brillant Science and Maths Quiz on national television. Brillant was what it was called, yes, no typo there. That was the name of the blue bar soap by Unilever that was the title sponsor OF the competition. Much has changed since then. National Science and Maths Quiz, it’s now called. Very appropriate. Prime Time was in its prime, producing this feast of brilliance. They seem to have kept their shine, now in the hands of the next generation of Mensah-Bonsus.



Our battle was held and filmed at the Great Hall of the University of Ghana, Legon. Technically, this should’ve been a ‘home match’ for me, in my own territory, since the venue was barely a mile from my home, No. 14 Legon Hill. But no. Everyone was rooting for the über smart all-ladies team from Wesley Girls. Can you blame them? Even now they would be a delight; how much more in those medieval ages of STEM in Africa. Come to think of it, the now-ubiquitous ‘STEM’ term for Science, Tech, Engineering and Math had not even been cooked yet. The STEM acronym was only introduced in 2001 by scientific administrators at the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). Girls in Science were hallowed in the 1990s.  Even I admired them, but my mission was to win for my school. No distractions.

My Achimota School team was made up of three boys, the three musketeers, although we are the first co-ed public school in the country as far back as 1927 and had science girls who rocked. Needless to say, the competition against the Cape Coast chics was fierce. We had both earned our way to the penultimate in the southern zone.

We inflicted what is arguably the most painful defeat Geyhey has ever suffered at the science and maths quiz. It was veeery close. Even the camera crew were downcast when the celebrity girls lost, visibly disappointed. We made enemies that day. Some couldn’t even hide it.



But as it turned out: it’s not the whole word that hated us. Some girls loved us. I was the recipient of umpteen letters of adulation from young ladies all over the country. They happily introduced themselves, sometimes with atrocious photo inserts, and poured their admiration on me—about my intellectual prowess among other things which will distract from the point of this article. Now I’m not sure all of it was appropriate for seventeen.

Even the Weygeygey girls became friends later when things cooled down. After all, “if you can’t beat them; join them,” as they say. That’s how I ended up with the various names in that year group, some of whom became colleagues at the University of Ghana Medical School, as friends. Zanetor Rawlings, first daughter of the then Flight Lieutenant-retired president of Ghana, even visited me in Achimota School at some point. Like me, she would later pursue Medicine too; but in Ireland. I once warned her at a party in Nana Ama Barnes’ home on Legon Campus that if she dared ended up schooling outside Ghana after her revolutionary dad had messed up (yes, teenagers are fearless!) our educational system so, I would be really mad. I guess I’m still mad. A little. She has since returned and been admiringly serving as a Member of Parliament for the Korle Klottey constituency of Accra. In any case, seeing affliction metted out to a certain young man who hang around her at the time, involuntary hair-shaving at the Osu Castle and all, it might have been providence that I stayed at arm’s length.



But I digress. Back to the main lady Gertrude, as we called Ayorkor then. She was and is brilliantly brilliant. We only beat her team by strategy and a stroke of luck. Call it grace, if you like. Those girls were on fire! Ayorkor, after 1995, went on ahead to pack up four degrees including two Bachelor’s, a Master’s and a PhD. Dr. Korsah grew up in Ghana and Nigeria, and as a child, she wanted to be an astronaut and an engineer. Ayorkor didn’t join the majority of us that continued to Ghanaian tertiary institutions but went to Ivy League Dartmouth to major in engineering. She attended Carnegie Mellon University for her doctoral work in computer science, obtaining a PhD in 2011.

Ayorkor Korsah is all-round passionate about the artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, algorithms, and programming courses she teaches on the Ashesi Hill but so is she about expanding robotics education in Africa for every Kofi and Amma. That’s why she co-founded the African Robotics Network (AFRON) over a decade ago with a robotics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Ken Goldberg.

Anyele my wife and I really found a common sweet spot with Ayorkor last Saturday when we coincidentally discovered our common passion for literacy. Being someone who has shared with the BBC how humans and machines can collaborate and combine their strengths, Ayorkor once, over a dozen years ago, experimented with an automated reading tutor in the quest to improving child literacy in Africa. She has a paper on it in the Information Technologies & International Development journal, vol. 6 no. 2, 2010. We are keen to collaborate with her and her bright Ashesi students at our EdTech company, Perbi Cubs, for bigger, brighter and better outcomes for Africa’s precious cubs.



Ayorkor beat me to full-time lectureship and will most likely beat me again to professorship (she so deserves it). But as she, Anyele and I continued our hearty conversation, including recruiting some of her students to practice what she teaches at our Edtech, we got to know she has two little ones of her own, younger than our last two. And we have seven. We beat her to that, fair and square. She even just married, in light of our sixteenth year, and transitioned from Mills-Tettey to Korsah.

Enough of these beatings! Really we’re all grown now and know, for sure, that life isn’t a race against each other. Nor is it about a bout. Rather than compete like we did in our teens, we now learn to complete one another in our adult years for the greater good—the Good Society. In lockstep, we will keep producing holistic emerging leaders, formally like Dr. Ayorkor Korsah does with degrees at Ashesi and informally and semi-formally like I do at The HuD Group. Ashesi turned 20 last year and we turn the same this year. Patrick Awuah, our mutual founding friend of Ashesi will be keynoting at The HuD Group’s presser on June 16, 2023. I was telling him that maybe I should’ve started a Uni too instead of going the CSO (Civil Society Organization) route. But nay, to each one their own. And we compliment, collaborate and complete each other as we all strive hard and long towards the Africa we want.

And as if by divine design, one of the Presec folks who beat our Achimota team in the finals of the Brilliant Science and Math Quiz 1995 southern zone competition ended up as my Biological Sciences course mate and even my room mate at Legon Hall, University of Ghana. We both competed for the few slots at med school available to our Leviathan-sized cohort and made it–from the same room!

There’s a time to compete and a time to collaborate. For me, to complete and not compete today as professional pals and fellow family framers of the same generation is a no-brainer. Here’s to answering life’s real tough questions and quizzes together. Congratulations, Dr. Ayorkor Korsah, for continually raising the bar.


Post script

And oh, Anyele and Ayikai, Ayorkor’s engineering whiz kid of a younger sister, have been tight friends for a quarter-of-a-century, going way back to their Wesley Girls days.

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  1. Reindorf Perbi says:
    9 June 2023

    Sweet memories, absolutely, and very captivatingly put together ????????????????????????

  2. Ekua Bartlett-Mingle says:
    10 June 2023

    Brilliant piece!


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