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Inspiring students

abeje mersha lang

After a lecturing career in Ethiopia, Abeje Mersha was looking for a new challenge in his field. He applied for a Master’s scholarship and received invitations from universities in different countries. Twente University seemed to offer the perfect programme and now, 7 years later, he is still enjoying life and work in Twente very much.

“When I was young the only thing I knew about The Netherlands was the Dutch football team, with its famous players Ruud Gullit and Dennis Bergkamp. As soon as my wife and I, who has the same academic background that I have, arrived here the thing that impressed us most was all the green, much more than we expected. Everything is very well organised and the people were easy to talk to and  friendly. The Dutch can be direct but once you get used to it and become part of society, it is something that you will enjoy.

I started a Master’s programme at the Robotics and Mechatronics group at Twente University. After studying Electrical Engineering in Ethiopia I wanted to specialize myself. Right after I finished my Master’s degree I was offered a PhD position at the university and because I am always looking for a challenge I of course accepted. My research topic was ‘unmanned aerial vehicles’, also known as drones. These are not just the devices that are used on the battlefield but in wide ranging applications, f.i. for the inspection of power plants. After my PhD I got several opportunities at the university and at companies but as I really enjoyed the combination of teaching and research, the position that was offered to me by Saxion was perfect. Apart from that I thought it was important to stay in the region that I did my Master’s and PhD in.”

Teaching, research and students

“At Saxion I work partly as a lecturer, partly as an applied researcher. This means I am involved in research projects in the Mechatronics Lectoraat as well as in teaching modules in the Mechatronics course. The collaboration between the research and the teaching departments offers great opportunities, not just for me but for the students as well. I am currently involved in a national project about medical robotics. In the near future elderly people, a number that is getting bigger and bigger, may be forced to stay at home by themselves much longer. The medical robotics project is aimed at developing technology for a healthcare robot to assist these elderly people. Imagine that your mobility is limited and you want to move from the living room to the kitchen. This ‘wheelchair robot’ first of all has to know where the kitchen is and secondly has to know how to avoid obstacles. Once it is there you might want a coffee, so then the robotic hand that we are planning to incorporate will be able to pick up things for you.

We asked the students to develop an application that would enable them to use all their gained knowledge and one that would be beneficial to our research project. The result is a racing car fitted with vision technology so that it sees obstacles and can move independently from A to B. Asking two groups of students to build the best racing car is much more fun than asking them to develop a moving system for a wheelchair. And it worked, because they were very enthusiastic and put in many voluntary hours. We like to use this multidisciplinary approach and to prepare the students for the real life challenges they will encounter when they start working at a company.”

A future in Twente?

“Both the educational department and the research department of Mechatronics are quite new. There is a lot more to develop and I am happy to be a part of that. We would like to become one of the most important players in the field of mechatronics, not just in the region, and we are working hard to achieve it.

And Twente? I have met many great people since I moved here. At the university the environment was very international and now that I live in Glanerbrug , I really got to know the local people as well. So for now I am staying!

Want to know more about Mechatronics at Saxion? Read about it here!