The Power of One

Dartmouth Alumni Magazine

September 7, 2011

By Jennifer Wulff

DAM Sept/Oct cover image He tackled a paper on Nietzsche’s Antichrist in his freshman writing course, built heat- and compressed-air-powered engines in Thayer’s machine shop and even learned how to play ice hockey during one of Hanover’s most intense winters in recent years. Asked about the difficulty of those feats, or his adjustment to the countless day-to-day changes he’s faced since moving to the United States from his village in Malawi, William Kamkwamba just shrugs and smiles. But there’s one thing at Dartmouth he still can’t wrap his head around: pong. “What is this strange game?” he says. “Back home, if you want to drink, you need money to do that. Here, if you are just bad at pong, you get to drink a lot for free. That is definitely something different.” ...

“To start with nothing and end up with a fully fledged windmill that produces power is an extraordinary move,” says engineering professor John Collier ’72, Th’77, who is Kamkwamba’s advisor. “And to do it all with no tools except for some nails? I don’t think there’s a doubt in anyone’s mind that he’s a natural at this.”

Now that he has access to the machine shop at the Thayer School of Engineering, which stocks tools and materials he couldn’t even dream of in Africa, Kamkwamba is delving into many more projects. “We’re working now on computer-aided design [CAD], which will give him a real boost,” says Collier. “He’s got a great imagination and big plans, so CAD is perfect for him.” This summer, after a month-long trip back home, Kamkwamba, who turned 24 on August 5, spent the rest of his off-term in Hanover to enjoy more time in the shop. After all, that was what drew him to Dartmouth in the first place. “At other schools you could maybe use the machines in your senior year, but here I could use the shop as a freshman, so I thought this was better suited to me,” he says. “I’m definitely more of a hands-on person.” ...

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