Internship Spotlight: Sophie Pesek, A.B. ’20 (Zoomlion Ghana Limited)

Wednesday, September 4, 2019 - 4:00pm

Name: Sophie Pesek

Concentration: Environmental science and engineering

Graduation Year: 2020

Hometown: Cambridge, Mass.

Internship focus: Sanitation and sustainable development

Internship location: Zoomlion Ghana Limited in Accra, Ghana

Describe your internship.

This summer I worked with Zoomlion Ghana Limited, a waste management company in Accra, the capital of Ghana. I was fortunate to learn about the full process of waste treatment, from touring recycling and compost plants, to learning about initiatives in waste water treatment and anaerobic digestion. Most of my work was with the solid waste collection team, which does door-to-door trash collection for private citizens and companies. I engaged in the process of negotiating concessions, registering clients, resolving complaints, and collecting payments. My main project involved a comparative analysis of trends in client complaints and missed service payments. I wanted to learn which factors contributed to higher complaint rates in certain areas and whether this affected clients’ willingness to pay.

What is one of the most valuable lessons you learned from this internship, and why?

One of the most valuable lessons I took away from this internship is how essential data-driven decisions are. My supervisors and I had several hypotheses about why there were persistent issues with collecting payments for waste collection services. Using data to directly compare trends allowed me to come to an informed conclusion rather than simply taking my best guess. Before I left, we worked to set up programs that will replicate this analysis in the future, so the company can continue to plot trends and explore the factors that detract from, or enhance, operations.

What is one of the biggest challenges you faced during this internship, and why? How did you overcome it?

There were so many data gaps that we had to work around, not just within the company’s records, but also information that should be available through the government. However, it took me a while to realize that not all of this knowledge was entirely lost. The lack of formal records meant that individuals often had expertise in these areas and would be able to provide statistics from memory. It was a big change to learn how to rely on information gleaned in interpersonal conversations rather than what I could research on my own, but I enjoyed learning on more human terms.

What skills from your courses at SEAS helped you the most during this internship, and why?

I appreciated the application of waste treatment that I’ve learned through Introduction to Environmental Science and Engineering (ESE 6) and Pollution Control in Aquatic Ecosystems (ESE 163). I also was able to apply the basic programming skills that I learned in Introduction to Computer Science (CS 50). Lastly, an understanding of how to collaborate on projects with resources and a culture different from the U.S. came from my semesters working with Engineers Without Borders in Humanitarian Design Projects (ES 91hfr).

Why has this internship been a good experience for you?

My time with Zoomlion offered an amazing exposure to the application of topics that I’ve learned about in the classroom. Understanding the constraints and messiness of analyzing real-world data was eye-opening. This was also my first time working in a corporate setting, so learning to navigate the realm of professionalism and friendship with my coworkers (all while learning about Ghanaian culture) ultimately made the summer incredibly fulfilling.

 How do you think this experience could inform or benefit your future career path?

This internship has continued to fan my passion for international development. It was incredible to witness the strength of a local Ghanaian company and I was blown away by the dedication and thoughtfulness of my coworkers. It reinforced my belief that the most powerful development initiatives come from within countries, as companies are filled with passionate people who understand the local context. Public infrastructure has the potential to do tremendous good, especially where there are opportunities to build from the ground up in ways that make life better for both natural and human communities. In the future, I hope I can lend a small bit of my engineering knowledge to projects that sustainably build a better world.

How did you find out about this internship?

My internship is sponsored through a collaboration between the Center for African Studies (CAS) and the Jospong Group (Zoomlion’s parent company). I found out about this program at the Harvard International Opportunities Fair.