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George (Koby) Osei-Mensah

“The students are so engaged. They ask great questions. I had thought that kind of high-level thinking only happened in college.”

As a child growing up in Ghana, Koby never envisioned that he would one day become a teacher. Yet he was constantly teaching. “I always loved helping other people find more success in their academic work. I would gather my younger siblings and other kids who lived (nearby) so I could tutor them, give them help in math and science.  In fact, I did it so much, they called me ‘Teacher Koby.’”  Still, according to Koby, it was expected in his culture that, as an intelligent young person, “I would become a doctor, an engineer, or a lawyer. There was not a lot of choice.”  

That intelligent young person was in his second year of high school when he was selected by the Ghanaian government to receive one of three scholarships offered nationwide to attend one of the United World Colleges (UWC). Koby went to UWC Atlantic College, located in Llantwit Major, Wales, where he completed high school with an International Baccalaureate. “I almost said no at the time, because I wanted to stay in Ghana and go to medical school.” Koby reflects. His dad, a poultry farmer, encouraged him to accept the offer. “He told me, ‘There’s more to the world than just Ghana. So, why not avail yourself to this opportunity? Give it a shot.’”

Living in England was a bit of a culture shock, but Koby loved the international environment and made friends from all over the world. And he once again found himself tutoring and giving lessons to local kids.

It was at UWC that Koby discovered his love of chemistry. “During my senior year, we did a project where we turned used vegetable oil from the dining hall into bio-diesel. And I thought it was the coolest thing. Something that was going to be thrown away could be turned into something useful,” he recalls. “It got me really excited about science. I never looked back. I wanted to learn more.”

After high school, Koby attended Middlebury College during which time he spent a year in Berlin, Germany, where he did an internship with a chemical company and honed his German-language skills, an important language in the field of chemistry.

Koby considered going into industry and working as a chemist. However, in his senior year at Middlebury, he learned about Teach for America when the organization made a presentation at the college.

After graduating from Middlebury, Koby taught in a large public school in Houston, Texas, through the Teach for America program. He loved the experience, but the large class sizes and lack of resources presented many challenges. He came to Loomis Chaffee the following year.

It was in Houston that Koby first started calling his students “world-class chemists,” something he still does with his Loomis Chaffee students. “The students always respond well to this,” he says. “It makes them believe in themselves, like they know that what they are doing is important, that they can see themselves as chemists, not just students studying chemistry.”

Since coming to Loomis in 2011, Koby has completed a master’s degree in chemistry, focusing on medicinal chemistry, and has developed a Loomis Chaffee course in Organic Chemistry, a subject rarely taught at the high school level. He is excited by his daily work sharing a field he loves with his students. “The students are so engaged. They ask great questions. I had thought that kind of high-level thinking only happened in college,” he says.

Koby values giving students hands-on experiences in the lab and helping them to explore solutions “that make the world better. I want to make it relevant for them.” Recently, his classes have been studying the structure of anti-viral drugs such as those used against the virus that causes COVID-19 to better understand how and why they work.

“Every single day, a student will say something that I’ve never heard before, that I’ve never thought about before. Every single day,” he says. “I am always learning from them. That energizes me and keeps me going.”


 

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