Washington State University Pullman senior Kofi Frimpong remembers the electricity frequently going out when he was studying while living with his grandparents in Ghana at a young age. During those periods of darkness, he resorted to finishing his homework by candlelight.
“My grandma said jokingly that I would fix this problem someday, and that stuck with me,” Frimpong said. “It helped spark my passion for STEM.”
That passion has led Frimpong to some amazing opportunities that include participating in the White House Science Fair, becoming a student leader and role model at WSU, and helping develop new patent-pending technology at Boeing.
Impressing President Obama
Frimpong’s incredible journey in STEM education, sparked by his grandmother’s comment, began in earnest when he moved from Ghana to Colorado in middle school. He immediately got involved with science projects and partnered with a couple of seventh-grade classmates to design and build a carbon fiber leg prosthetic for a local veteran.
Impressed with their work, his school’s STEM teacher entered the project into the Samsung “Solve for Tomorrow” competition — a national contest where students from across the country showcase their STEM projects and vie for prizes and an opportunity to be mentored by a STEM professional. Frimpong’s group won several rounds of the contest, competing against mostly high school students; ultimately, their project was selected as one of the top five in the nation.
The feat earned his school $200,000 in prize money to upgrade its technology, and Frimpong’s group received an invitation to the White House Science Fair, where they met President Barack Obama.
“Among those we got to present our science project to was Obama, and he said he was very impressed with our work,” Frimpong said. “It was a big opportunity and a great experience.”
Making his mark at Boeing
Frimpong received another big opportunity to showcase his talent when he interned at Boeing during the summer of 2023. Arun Ayyagari, a principal senior technical fellow at Boeing, was designing a digital airplane cargo tracking system to help loaders make maximum use of a plane’s storage space and needed assistance from someone well-versed in coding. When he asked the interns if any of them could help, Frimpong raised his hand.
“He asked a lot of me, and I could tell he wasn’t sure if I would be able to understand what he presented to me,” Frimpong said. “The following Monday, I provided him with new code and a training module explaining how it works. From there it was full steam ahead on the project.”
What was expected to be a quick two-week collaboration turned into a summer-long partnership between Frimpong and Ayyagari. Although Frimpong’s involvement with that project has ended, he continues to work with Boeing as his time allows and the company has already offered him a job when he graduates this spring.
“Kofi is wise beyond his years and performed at a level equal to people who have been working at Boeing for five years or more,” Ayyagari said. “The pace we kept and the accomplishments we achieved by the end of the summer were impressive, and Kofi was instrumental to us pulling it off.”
Due to his key role in developing the cargo tracking system, Frimpong’s name is included on the U.S. patent application Boeing is submitting for the new technology. It is expected to be implemented on planes beginning in 2027.
“When I found out my name was being included in the patent, I was truly shocked,” Frimpong said. “At that moment I thought back to when my grandfather, who died earlier in the year, told me to ‘make us proud,’ and I really felt I was living up to his words.”
(To read more about Frimpong, including the role WSU faculty and staff have played in his success and why he no longer visits Ghana just to see his grandparents, visit the WSU Pullman home page.)