Working at the Arsenal is electrifying
Benjamin Dedjoe came to America 15 years ago seeking the land of opportunity and found the Watervliet Arsenal. He is known to be the first African-American to hold the job as chief electrical engineer at the Arsenal in its nearly 200-year history."

WATERVLIET ARSENAL, NY -- To measure personal success one must first establish a benchmark - in essence a starting point - and then evaluate where they are at some future point. For many of us, we use different criteria in how we define success. For some, it may be a well-paying job, while for others; it may be raising kids who have gone on to college. But for one new employee at the Arsenal, we might all agree on the criterion that has helped to define him as one very successful person.

Fifteen years ago, Benjamin Dedjoe was a young man living in a West African country called Ghana. After having completed studies in geophysics at the University of Ghana in 1996, he was unsure if he could realize his full potential in his homeland that was rife with what he described as high poverty and corruption.

So, after purchasing a pair of size 11 dress shoes at a flea market - he wears size 13 shoes but the nicest pair he could find were size 11 - and not much more than a belief that America was truly a land of opportunity, Benjamin left Ghana in May 1996 for America.

Hopes and beliefs are sometimes shocked into stark reality, as was the case with Benjamin when he arrived in New York City on a cold May morning. When he left Ghana, it was unusually warm, about 90 degrees. When he arrived in New York City the temperature was in the low 40s.

To those of us from upstate New York, anything above 40 degrees is tropical, but to Benjamin, who did not have a sweater or coat, he now understood how a deep freeze drove dinosaurs into extinction.

He followed his girlfriend, who is now his wife, to Wisconsin. Although Benjamin had a college degree, for several months he cleaned bathrooms in a hotel to make ends meet. He said he wasn't discouraged by the type of job he landed, because at the end of the day what he was doing was better than living in Ghana. In fact, he claims he was the best housekeeper that hotel had.

After several months, his coworkers and guests at the hotel convinced Benjamin to go back to school to better himself. Off to Madison Technical College he went and eventually graduated with a degree in computer science. IBM quickly hired him.

While at IBM, his Ghana culture was weighing on his mind. His father was a career soldier in the Ghana Army and according to custom, he should be a soldier, too. In 2000, Benjamin enlisted into the U.S. Army. He was seriously injured in 2002 and was medically discharged.

Back to school Benjamin went.

He decided to go to Kansas State University due to its prestigious electrical engineering program. Benjamin said he was always interested in electricity ever since he was almost electrocuted by the light switch that hung from the wall by his bed when he was growing up. The switch was not secured in the wall as one may find today in any house or office, but hung freely with exposed wires.

Armed with a bachelor's degree from Kansas State University, Benjamin headed off for his Masters Degree, which he eventually attained from Southern Illinois University.

He then became the resident electrical engineer at Western Illinois University for a while before being hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as an elite team member of a Forward Engineer Support Team - Advance. Although there were only eight teams of this sort in the country, Benjamin said he yearned for a bigger challenge.

Benjamin said it is his passion to work with electricity and power generation systems and the bigger the challenge the more job satisfaction he feels. When he read that the Watervliet Arsenal was looking for an electrical engineer who had power generation experience, he said he thought that he could make a real difference at the Arsenal.

Benjamin has been with the Arsenal just shy of one year, but what a year it was. He redesigned the power system for the Rotary Forge, rebuilt two transformers that had burned out in one of our production buildings, designed a fire alarm system for the firehouse, and has designed power grids for new capital improvement machinery.

According to David Roe, who is the Chief of the Public Works Division, "Benjamin is probably the most qualified and capable electrical engineer the Arsenal has had in the last 20 years."

"He comes to work every day with a positive attitude and a strong passion to keep the Arsenal operating," Roe said. "He truly cares about this place."

Considering how far he has come over the last 15 years, from cleaning bathrooms to becoming a Soldier to being the Arsenal's sole power engineer, we might all agree that Benjamin has become quite successful and truly worthy of being this month's Face of Strength.

Page last updated Mon April 4th, 2011 at 15:25