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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

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Feven Getachew
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Carlton Segbefia

Carlton Segbefia

“They used to call me Big C. … [My] coworkers, they were like, ‘Everyone needs a DJ name.’”

Since he interned as a sound engineer in 2017, Carlton Segbefia `21, or “Big C,” has done more than you can possibly imagine in his four years at Grinnell College.

When I asked Segbefia to sum up his time at Grinnell in a single word, he responded immediately: “Busy.”

He isn’t lying. In the hour that Segbefia and I spent chatting over Zoom, we discussed his love for events like Food Bazaar, Pioneer Weekend and Hack GC, as well as his involvement in organizations such as Exhale, Film Club and the Grinnell United Activist Collective (GUAC).

Trust me, the list goes on.

Segbefia was born in Kumasi, Ghana and moved to the more urban city of Accra when he was five years old. In Accra, Segbefia had access to more educational opportunities, including the highly selective high school that he attended.

“Before high school I didn’t even know I could actually leave the country to study,” Segbefia said. “But the high school was like, ‘Yeah we have a lot of alumni who’ve done it. We’ll help you do it if it’s something you’re interested in.’”

Rather than using Ghana’s local curriculum that typically focused on practical skills such as agriculture and cooking, his high school was based on the International Baccalaureate (IB) and O-Level/A-Level curriculum. This meant that in high school, Segbefia was exposed to graphic design and computer science classes for the first time—topics he quickly became interested in pursuing further.

Interested in continuing to study “more formal fields” such as computer science, geography and literature that he learned about in high school, Segbefia decided to look for colleges in the United States that would allow him to explore a vast range of ideas. Considering himself a generalist with many interests, the concept of a liberal arts-based education enticed him the most.

“I don’t see myself as a specialist. I really enjoy looking at things from different angles. I really enjoy different schools of thought. So I was like, ‘Alright, I need to do liberal arts.’”

At Grinnell, Segbefia knew he wanted to major in computer science, though he didn’t want that to be his singular passion.

“What I knew before coming to Grinnell was, computer science is a tool,” he said. “It’s a tool to solve a problem. But I don’t know what the problem is.”

Upon taking Introduction to Sociology with Professor Snook during his first year, the problem Segbefia had previously struggled to identify had become a whole lot clearer.

“That class blew my mind. … It was things I knew about, but it had never been structured properly.”

Segbefia decided to double major in sociology and computer science. He particularly enjoyed a sociology course focused on the influence and role of mass media, as it allowed him to pursue his passion for film and media production from a new perspective.

Over his four years at Grinnell, Segbefia worked with friends to organize a film club that analyzed technical elements used in movies, hosted a weekly documentary viewing and discussion group and was working to connect students at Grinnell to the Mayflower retirement home before the pandemic hit.

During his second and third years, Segbefia was heavily involved with Code Club, that teaches middle school students at Drake Library about technology and coding. The program also focuses more broadly on scientific topics such as understanding gravity and creating circuits. When the coordinator position for the program became official following Segbefia’s second year, he applied for the position and was accepted to run the program for his third year.

Aside from Drake Library being Code Club’s home base, it’s also one of Segbefia’s favorite places in town.

“I feel like students don’t use Drake library as much as they should,” he said. “It’s like one of my favorites study spots. There’s so much glass and light, and there are like so many nice people, like you can actually end up having a pretty interesting conversation with people in town.”

Interested in learning more about woodwork and how to apply his creativity physically rather than technologically, Segbefia worked in the College’s Maker Lab (MLab). At the MLab, Segbefia worked with students to turn ideas into physical objects and designs. In addition, he designed the MLab’s new online portal that allows students to request tools and ensures student safety by verifying user training when it comes to being approved to use the more dangerous tools available. Currently, Segbefia is attempting to make the website open-source so that other MLab programs across the country can use it.

“It’s just been a fun creative space where I get to learn new things and help creative people also create stuff.”

Segbefia says his involvement in Black Faith and the African Caribbean Student Union (ACSU) on campus have also been important parts of his Grinnell experience and contributed to his sense of comfort on campus.

“I like to think of it as spaces where you could feel welcome, always,” he said. “Not to say Grinnellians aren’t welcoming or nice people. You can’t blame someone for not having the same shared experiences as you … but it’s just nice to have people with a shared experience as well.”

Since March 2020 when the College sent students home due to the pandemic, Segbefia has been living in Grinnell and currently lives off-campus in an apartment with some friends.

What will he miss the most about Grinnell? The spontaneity of running into a friend and heading to the Dining Hall for an impromptu meal.

Through these shared meals, Segbefia says, “You learn, you meet new people, you have interesting discussions. That’s my favorite part of Grinnell, the spontaneous interactions.”

For the first time in years, Segbefia doesn’t have anything lined up for the upcoming summer and is looking forward to spending his time reading and writing for pleasure. Chuckling, Segbefia showed me a stack of books he’s kept since his first year at Grinnell that he hasn’t had the chance to fully dive into with all the academic readings he’s had to do for his classes over the years.

“I have read almost none of them. I’ve read parts of them, but read almost none of them.”

Starting in August, Segbefia will be working as an analyst and software engineer for BlackRock, an asset management firm that he previously interned for.

“I keep telling people I sold my soul to a tech company, so I cannot sell my soul later.”

Segbefia plans to save up the money he makes through his work to eventually fulfill his long-term goal of starting his own business in Ghana.

“I don’t know if it’s 10 years, 20 years, but that’s the point I want to reach.”

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