Monday, August 8, 2011

If you educate a girl, Part IX

When on sabbatical leave at the University of Ghana in 2008 I heard people say that the University of Cape Coast (UCC) had some of the best university science programs in Ghana. I was concerned, therefore, when I realized that among the Ghanaian students admitted to the African University of Science and Technology (AUST-Abuja), in 2008 and 2009, there were no UCC students.

In March 2010, o
n my way to a meeting at AUST, I decided to stop in Ghana and visit UCC. After contacting the Dean of Physical Sciences via e-mail, he kindly extended an invitation to me. I met with fifteen or so teaching assistants with first degrees in physics and chemistry, and shared with them the AUST vision, but never heard back from any of them. It was therefore a pleasant surprise when in the following July, three students (two females and a male) came up to me in AUST-Abuja, smiling, and introduced themselves as among the students who met with me at UCC.

In December 2011 these three UCC students will graduate with MSc degrees—two of them in Theoretical Physics and another in Materials Science and Engineering. Congratulations to them!

Continuing with my series on the education of females, I asked if the two women, Janet Sackey and Ivy Asuo, would be willing to share a bit about their experiences and what motivated them to pursue careers in science and technology:

Saturday, May 28, 2011

If you educate a girl, Part VIII

The African University of Science and Technology (AUST)-Abuja opened its doors to students in 2008. This post-graduate institution offers masters degrees in four fields: mathematics, computer science, materials science and engineering, and petroleum engineering. Among the second batch of students (2009/10) were several women. I posted an interview with one of them previously.

I also spoke with two of the computer science students, Adedoyin Adegoke and Dorothy Maduagwu. They shared some of the challenges they have faced as they seek to pursue their academic goals.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

If you educate a girl, Part VII

I was recently watching the Brazil segment of Professor Gates' recent PBS series Black in Latin America, Brazil: A Racial Paradise?.

The comments made in the video about the lack of AfroBrazilians in higher education institutions reminded me of a conversation I had on one of my trips to Brazil. I chatted with a determined and hardworking post-doctoral researcher at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), Roberta Froes. I was curious to learn more about her educational experiences as an AfroBrazilian.

The following video shares excerpts from our conversation, which was conducted in English since my Portuguese is still pretty rudimentary. Her parents did not have the opportunity to receive higher education, but they vowed that “our child will be what we could not be.”

I learned that she was one of only 2 or 3 AfroBrazilians out of 40 in her technical high school, and that she was the only one of them to finish out the course.

While she passed the exams to attend the university, her parents could not afford to pay her incidental expenses (food, transportation, etc.). Roberta was told that she would not be able to complete the course in 4 years if she had to work, but she was determined to prove the experts wrong. By studying during the day and working nights teaching high school chemistry, she was able to finish her work in four years.

She took time off for a break, but a year later decided to go on for a master’s degree in analytical chemistry. Due to a frustrating year-long lack of equipment in the labs, Roberta was forced to complete her master’s degree in 6 months, and went on to enter the doctoral program a month later. She finished her doctorate, on
contamination in beverages, in 3 years.

When I asked her for advice to give other black Brazilian young people about going into the sciences, she shared how much it means to her personally to now know scientists who are people like her: in Salvador in Bahia, in Belo Horizonte, and other places.

“I have relationships with people.” Before then, she only saw white people, or Asian people. She proudly announced “I’m not alone.” There are now some, though still only a few, people like her.
She lamented that AfroBrazilians think they can’t continue their education and tend to say things like “No, I need to work.” “I need a car first, so I have to work . . .” She ends the interview by explaining that a lot of black people think they will end up with the worst jobs and there’s no need to study, they’ll never get ahead. She, however, affirms: “No, if I want to be in that place, I will be in that place!”

We celebrate Dr. Roberta Froes' successes and hope that as her career advances she will find ways to link up, too, with the worldwide community of African scientists and engineers.
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