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Prof. Joseph Yaw Yeboah: The Ghanaian engineer who bagged 4 degrees in 4 years from MIT in 1975


Education is said to be the key to success. From early childhood education to adult education, advancing knowledge, irrespective of age group or background, could prove pivotal to one’s success.

For Ghanaian engineer and innovator Prof. Joseph Yaw Yeboah, earning one degree was not enough as he went on to secure three more degrees in four years from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the USA.

Prof. Yeboah, who hails from Yonso in the Ashanti Region, was one of the 1,259 individuals to receive degrees at MIT’s 109th commencement in June 1975.

During his four-year stint at MIT, Yeboah did a remarkable thing by earning four degrees: A bachelor in chemistry, chemical engineering, and management, and a Master’s in chemical engineering practice.

At the time Yeboah earned this significant feat, there were no records of multiple-degree recipients being kept.

According to blackhistory.mit.edu, “It is impossible to say if his accomplishment is without precedent.”

When asked what lies ahead during an interview with MIT in 1975, Yeboah gave a startling response. It was as if Yeboah’s four degrees were not enough for him as he had just begun working on his doctorate the day after his commencement.

“I started work on my doctorate the day after commencement,” he told blackhistory.mit.edu.

Yeboah is one of eight children born to his parents, whom he said were illiterates. Despite being from a poor background, Yeboah recounts that his upbringing was impacted by a string of lucky moments. The first being at a time when Ghana had a free education system for elementary and secondary schools based on performance.

“So, even though my parents were illiterate and poor, I was still able to attend school. I did well enough to qualify for secondary school, where I obtained a scholarship to the Government Secondary Technical School at Takoradi.

“It’s a secondary school where you also learn some technical subjects like woodworking, metalworking, and engineering drawing. Again, luckily for me, I was able to do well on the O-Level GCE exam to the point where I gained admission to the two-year sixth-form program.

“After the first year of the two-year program, after which you normally go to university, I applied to several schools in the United States and I was lucky enough to have MIT offer me a scholarship to join the freshman class. What’s interesting is that to apply for the SAT, I just went to the library and looked up a whole bunch of university professors in the United States. I just wrote and pleaded with them to please pay my SAT admission fees for me. I was very lucky,” he narrated.

After sending out the letters, Yeboah said one Professor from the California Institute of Technology by the name of Harry Gray assisted him in paying the SAT admission fees.

“There was one professor, Professor Harry Gray of Caltech, who did just that. He just paid for it. Luckily, they sent me all the details in Ghana that my exam fees had been paid for. All I had to do was to show up and take the exam. That was very, very, very nice of him,” he recounted.

Yeboah, who took the exams in Ghana, secured a score of 800 on the achievement tests and mathematics for the SAT.

He shared that, “Naturally, English not being my native language, I probably got between 400 and 500 on the verbal. But for the math, physics, and chemistry, I got 800 on all of them.”

“It simply means I got a perfect score on the SAT math and the Achievements (now SAT II) in math, physics, and chemistry. I worked hard. The educational system in Ghana was very good. We had a very good system. For the A-Level, I took physics, chemistry, and math. Within those three subjects, I was very good. Those were the subjects I concentrated on.

“Choosing a discipline was very difficult for me. I liked physics, chemistry, and math so much that I didn’t know what to do, or what professional area to go into. I heard that chemical engineering was one area that combined physics, chemistry, and math. So actually, that’s why I majored in chemical engineering,” Yeboah shared.

After completing his Ph.D. degree in chemical engineering at MIT in 1979, Professor Yeboah said he had job offers from several companies including General Electric (GE), Upjohn, and Stauffer Chemical.

He opted to work for General Electric within one of four divisions which was responsible for the process development of General Electric’s polymers and silicone products.

“I received several patents for my inventions in this group for the five years I was at GE,” he revealed.

Prof. Joseph Yaw Yeboah, who has lived a remarkable career across the engineering industry, has four children with his wife.

“I have four grown children and they grew up without unnecessary added pressure from home on my record. I will say growing up they did not know much about my accomplishments, as we did not talk about them at home. I also had my diplomas and awards mounted in my office.”

“I strongly encouraged them to go to a high-rank research university for graduate education. Our approach must have worked as they are all grown and accomplished in their own right — two are medical doctors, one is an attorney, and one is an engineer. My wife and I are very proud of them and their accomplishments to date,” he concluded.

[Image Credit: MIT]

[Image Credit: MIT]

With additional files from blackhistory.mit.edu

Source: Ghanaweb.com