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Giving flight to childhood dreams

March 14, 2019
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ANN ARBOR— Abhinav Sharma’s fascination with planes began during his childhood in Cameroon. The son of Indian parents, this aerospace engineering student grew up in a family on the move, frequently traveling back and forth between Cameroon and India to visit extended family.

More than a decade later, Sharma would arrive at University of Michigan to fulfill this dream. After completing an undergraduate and a master’s degree, he is now a PhD candidate in aerospace engineering. His path to academic and professional success has continued to be reinforced by the first witnesses of his childhood affinity for machines—his family.

“My older brother, Tejasvi, is also an engineer,” Sharma explained. “His specialty is energy biomass. Since we both have roots in Cameroon, we decided to collaborate on a project to see how a solar cooker would be beneficial in a remote area.”

This time, the brothers would board a plane with a shared mission. They wanted to bring an alternative energy source to a village called Sagba, near Cameroon’s western border.

“Sunlight is the primary energy source for rural Cameroonian villages like Sagba. My brother and I are from the capital city, Yaoundé, and we’d never been to the western side of the country before.”

Though Sharma identifies as the “clown of the house,” the project allowed the brothers to view each other in a more professional light. Since solar cooker installation was more within the realm of Tejasvi’s specialty, Sharma helped out where he could, inspired by his older brother’s passion and enthusiasm.
“As siblings, we have had our little differences, but I was so excited to see Tejasvi’s initiative throughout the course of the project,” said Sharma.

After a successful completion of the project in Sagba, Sharma is thinking about introducing aerospace engineering in Cameroon in a meaningful way. He wants to launch a series of educational seminars and hands-on workshops to encourage more Cameroonians to get into the field.

“I really want to help demystify the way machines like aircrafts and helicopters work,” said Sharma. “In Cameroon, part of the reason a lot of people might not want to go into engineering is a lack of education on how machines function, which makes the field itself very intimidating.”

In addition to his research about environmental influences on helicopter velocity, Sharma is a founding member of Graduate Rackham International. GRIN is dedicated to addressing everyday issues faced by campus international students.

“Just the sheer support and availability of resources on our campus is amazing. I love it here!”

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