Graduate student from Botswana motivated to create change in clean energy and engineering representation  – Faculty of Engineering

Graduate student from Botswana motivated to create change in clean energy and engineering representation 

headshot of Mercy Budu.
By Naz Kittani

Mercy Budu dreams of engineering a brighter future where clean energy is adopted everywhere. And she believes McMaster is the place to do it.  

The Mechanical Engineering master’s student is working alongside world-renowned researcher Keena Trowell. Budu’s aspiration to become a part of the next generation of women engineering leaders is taking shape, supported by dynamic lived experiences and new opportunities as a McMaster student.  

Budu grew up in the Southern African country of Botswana where she lived for 17 years. She attended the University of Botswana, completing a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, an experience that unlocked her passion for pursuing opportunities that have real-world impact, and achieving equity, diversity and inclusion in academics. 

Budu played an active role in student leadership initiatives, serving as the vice president of her university’s engineering society for two years. In her role, she realized the importance of pushing herself and her fellow engineering students to explore life outside of academics in order to develop into well-rounded professionals.  

“Engineering is a profession that serves communities on a local, national and international level. There are so many ways in which engineers can create difference in the world, but in order to find what your passionate about, where or how you want to create a meaningful change, you have to explore who you are as an individual outside of the academic perception of engineering.”

Mercy Budu

As part of her leadership roles, Budu encouraged this out-of-the-box thinking with her peers by running seminars led by industry leaders and alumni to share different perspectives and career paths. 

Budu also completed a fellowship with WomEng Southern Africa. She learned valuable skills through modules about leadership, innovation and developing employability skills that would prepare her to join the workforce. Upon completion, Budu volunteered to be part of the organization and set out to establish similar initiatives in universities throughout South Africa and Botswana. 

“I am passionate about encouraging women to come into engineering and encouraging engineers to do more than just engineering, to enjoy all aspects of life and integrate their passions into how they work in the field,” she says. 

In the entirety of her four-year degree in Botswana, Budu recalls only ever seeing one woman in an academic position in engineering. After receiving a recommendation from her supervisor to explore graduate opportunities in Canada, Budu’s interest in McMaster was piqued by the opportunity to study and conduct research with the support of women faculty. 

“It’s really refreshing to see a lot of women in engineering at McMaster, especially in my field of study,” she says. “When I met Keena, it was clear we had a similar vision and passion for mechanical engineering applications to clean energy. I knew right away this is someone I want to work with, and working with her so far has been a dream.” 

Budu credits Trowell’s unwavering support and guidance for empowering her to strive for her goals and dreams and creating a space in which Budu can see herself thriving.  

“Seeing women in leadership roles and getting the opportunity to learn from them has been, and continues to be, such a meaningful mentorship experience for me.”

Mercy Budu

“Mercy is a brilliant and unique talent,” says Trowell. “When we first met, I was struck by how she not only demonstrated a strong technical understanding of engineering, but also understood the ‘big picture’. I’m proud to be her mentor and watch her use her talents to improve the world.” 

Prior to joining McMaster, Budu developed an interest in thermofluidic science and clean energy systems, specifically solar energy. 

Living in Botswana, she recognized the country’s high potential for solar energy that was not being utilized. The thought sparked what would then become the foundation of her research. “I’m exploring how we can make clean energy systems something attractive to government and industry and tap into models that countries like Botswana are naturally blessed with,” she explains.  

Upon learning more about the work being done at McMaster Engineering, specifically in thermoelectric generators using excess heat from an engine to produce electricity, Budu knew she had found a home for her newfound curiosity.  

“When I saw clean energy being a research opportunity at McMaster, I was sold,” says Budu. 

Now, as a graduate student on campus, Budu is enjoying leveraging state-of-the-art equipment and labs that McMaster offers to fuel her research, and the opportunities to get involved in cross-campus events.  She was the winner of the Three Minute Thesis (3MT), a university-wide competition for graduate students to present their research and its impact, for the department of Mechanical Engineering. She also won first place in McMaster’s second annual Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) pitch competition alongside two of her peers.  

three students receiving an award from a judge.
Daniel Maestre, Matt Player and Mercy Budu, with pitch competition judge, Charles Hopkins

Currently, the motivation for her work focuses on examining the correlation between efficient clean energy systems and economies. “When you look at energy in general, it is closely tied to economics,” she says. “If you don’t have effective energy systems, it’s hard to run businesses, operate hospitals or provide heating or cooling to homes. Countries with strong energy systems have strong economies.” 

Budu’s work in the field has already gained notable recognition, with her abstract being accepted at the Applied Energy Symposium being hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University this August. She was also among one of the top 50 applicants for this year’s ComSciConCAN , a science communication workshop for graduate students to present their research to peers, experts, policymakers and the general public. 

Looking ahead, Budu is excited to be continuing her research on modernizing outdated energy systems and to get more involved in the Fireball Family.  

“I hope to give back to the McMaster Engineering community in all the ways it has given to me,” she says. “I want to be a role model and mentor to other women in engineering and to empower them to take every opportunity this campus has to offer them.”