In many countries across the world, the representation of a small percentage of women researchers and leaders in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and related fields is a strong indication that resources are being under-utilized, thus depriving countries of their ability to reach their full potential in innovation and discovery.
However, through strategic and concerted efforts, increased engagement and advancement of women in these disciplines and in leadership is possible and necessary. These interventions could see Kenya and Africa become strategically positioned to engage more effectively in shaping human development and providing solutions across sectors for the continent and beyond.
These were part of the overarching issues interrogated by participants who attended a two-day workshop on equipping of women scholars/graduates for their academic and professional advancement in STEM, organized by Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) and the US-based Mentoring Network of African Women in Academia (MTAWA). The workshop opened Tuesday, July 24, 2018 at the Sino Africa Joint Research Centre (JKUAT).
The keynote speaker, Caroline Thoruwa, Professor of Chemistry and Director, Nairobi Satellite Campus of Kenyatta University – shared her personal experience poignantly capturing the challenges that have stymied women’s career progression in STEM.
“Vertical segregation where majority of women are concentrated at the lower ranks in professions; lack of role models and mentors; male dominated/hostile working environment, lack of access to information and research funds, work-life balance, lack of scientific and technological skills on grand writing and manuscript publications; limited funds for scholarships and research; low age limit for international scholarships and research grants,” Prof. Thoruwa noted, have all worked against the advancement of women.
She however stated that the paucity of women in science, technology and engineering is a global problem, adding it can be reversed through targeted initiatives and interventions, aimed at drawing attention to the inequalities and the challenges that exist and what needs to be done to create the critical mass of women who can champion STEM.
Participants appreciated aspects such as information and tools for application to post-graduate programmes; skills to enhance professional/career development as well as opportunities to network with scholars, professionals and their peers locally and internationally.
Prof. Clare Muhoro, an academic at Towson University in the United States, led participants in an engaging session on: “Launching Your Graduate and Professional Career: Tips and Tactics for Success,” where participants identified personal, career and academic interests and strengths, learnt how to communicate career interests and ideas, as well as preparing for postgraduate school and professional interviews.
The session discussants who included: Dr. Christine Adhiambo (University of Nairobi), Teckla Muhoro (JKUAT), Dr. Rose Mutiso (Mawazo Institute), Ms. Michelle Boit (Tullow Oil) and Prof. Margaret Gitau (Purdue University and President of MTAWA), shared their specific and unique personal testimonies, academic, career and professional journeys that not only found resonance with the participants’ inner self, but also fired feelings of inspiration among the budding scholars who are searching for focused intellectual bearing.
The apprehension associated with lack of information on the process of applying for postgraduate programmes was put to rest during a discussion chaired by Prof. Muhoro, and included a team of panelists namely: Ms. Phyllis Kalele (the Academy of Science of South Africa), Rosetta Ngugi (Towson University) and Prof. Gitau (Purdue University). Ms. Kalele laid bare the opportunities for fellowships in South Africa, and passionately encouraged the scholars to explore them.
The Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research, Production and Extension) Prof. Mary Abukutsa lauded the MTAWA programme and challenged women to remain focused, emphasizing the importance of developing social soft skills which she said, are critical in enhancing the women scholars’ capacity to strike a delicate balance as they navigate their career, professional and work-life terrains.
The MTAWA international workshop brought together scholars, graduates and professionals drawn from various universities in Kenya, Tanzania, Cameroon, Uganda, South Sudan, USA, South Africa, and Cameroon.
MTAWA is a group of US-based African women with advanced degrees and working in academia, government and industry that seeks to establish and build networks for African women in academia in support of their academic and professional growth and success.
MTAWA’s vision is to increase the number of African women with advanced degrees and improve their representation in key leadership positions across multiple sectors.
The workshop was also attended by Dean School of Architecture and Building Sciences, Prof. Stephen Dianga, Director, Gender and Mentoring Centre, Prof. Hellen Kutima, among others.
The workshop aimed to “provide participants with information and tools for application to post-graduate programmes; equip participants with skills to enhance professional/career development; as well as provide participants with opportunities to network with scholars, professionals and peers.”
MTAWA workshop was supported by Purdue and Towson universities, Mawazo Institute, COACh and Safaricom.