Rexford Essilfie ’22

Pursuing his passion for computers and music.

Rexford Essilfie ’22 stands in front of Gates Tower on the campus of Grinnell College.

Rexford Essilfie’s interests are at the core of his Grinnell experience.

The first time Rexford Essilfie ’22 heard about the African mobile money transfer company Chipper, he was visiting a local family off-campus that hosts international students attending Grinnell.

“I heard that it was a cool company started by Grinnellians,” says Essilfie, a computer science and music major who hails from Ghana. “This family had hosted one of the founders (Ham Serunjogi ’16, who co-founded Chipper with Maijid Moujaled ’14), when he attended Grinnell, so I got to hear about Ham and what he did on campus, and that piqued my interest.”

After learning more from Grinnellians who previously interned at Chipper, Essilfie formally applied for a summer internship in late 2019. He had other promising leads for internships but once COVID-19 hit, those opportunities disappeared. Thankfully, Chipper has employees working remotely around the globe and was still looking to hire.

Essilfie interviewed with Moujaled and Chief Technology Officer Patrick Triest ’15 and shared with them his experience building a banking/transaction application back in high school. He spent the summer working remotely from Atlanta, where he stayed with relatives. Essilfie’s main project, which was well-received, involved developing a receipt system for users.

“I was excited by the impact Chipper is having,” says Essilfie. “You can move your money freely anywhere, anytime. It’s the largest mobile, cross border money transfer platform in Africa. It’s really impactful and useful because in Africa there’s a booming mobile money space. And now if you are starting a business, you aren’t limited by borders – at least in the countries Chipper currently supports.”

As excited as he gets talking about applications and technology, computers aren’t his only passion. Essilfie, who has played keyboards since age 8, is equally interested in music. “My dad was a musician and coming to Grinnell, I was looking to build my music experience,” he says. “I had also been interested in pursuing computer science, and Grinnell allows you to get that breadth of experiences, to select the courses you want to take.”

Essilfie’s a member of the campus band called “Sorry We’re Late,” which includes the band’s founder, Saketan Anand ’21, guitar and vocals; Declan O’Reilly ’21 on drums; and Charun Upara ’21, on bass. The band, which leans toward funk/jazz/pop-fusion, has played on campus at the Medallion Ceremony and the Grinnellian, a student band showcase. The group also has opened for guest musicians, as well as performed off campus at The Stew Art Studios.  

Essilfie, second from left, and other leaders of the African and Caribbean Students Union pose for a photo during a pre-pandemic event.
Essilfie, second from left, and other leaders of the African and Caribbean Students Union pose for a photo during a pre-pandemic event.

Essilfie also sings and plays in the Young, Gifted, and Black Gospel Choir, and is involved in the African and Caribbean Students Union. “It’s a community space to build relationships,” he explains. “We cook and share meals and bring African culture to the campus.”

Since this most unusual fall semester began, Essilfie’s been among a small group of students living on campus. He wasn’t sure if he’d be able to get home to Ghana when the pandemic hit or come back to the U.S., so after living in Atlanta for the summer, he now resides in Langan Hall, with just six other students. “They spread us all out,” he explains, and there’s just one other person on his floor. The good news: He gets his own bathroom.

While it’s quiet on campus, Essilfie’s been busy nearly every day with classes, including computer science, microeconomics, and a music/jazz course. He also still works with Chipper as part of an internship-for-credit class. And he talks to his family almost every night in Ghana.

“It’s definitely different now,” he says. But it hasn’t stopped him from pursuing his passions or staying in touch with friends. And when students do return? Well, says Essilfie, “We (the band) have a bunch of songs we’ve written but not recorded.” And he’ll keep learning as much as he can from his internship at Chipper. 

“It’s been so developmental for me to see how many parts come together to make the app work on such a huge scale,” he says. “I’ll definitely be looking to apply these ideas and concepts and the way things are organized in my future internships and jobs.”

While in-person internships are mostly not possible right now, alumni are welcome to host   virtual internships. View the Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CLS) Volunteer page for more information.

— by Anne Stein ’84

Rexford’s experiences are another example of how the campus community connects to the world community. Kaya Prasad ’19 brought the perspective that she could learn something from everyone while virtual internships are bringing Grinnellians together.