I met Chinenye Ezeakor at Education Challenge Africa hosted by The DO School in Berlin. We both had to work on scaling a project called Experimento that was created by the Siemens Stiftung. She was at The DO School because she has done some incredible things in her life. She is an electrical engineer by profession and the founder of African Sisters in STEM (A-SISTEM), an organisation that encourages young women to pick up careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in Nigeria.
Why did you pick engineering and what kind of challenges have you faced because you chose engineering as your primary profession?
Engineering for me has always been a passion and dream profession. I’ve always loved finding solutions to problems and critical thinking. I’m also a person that loves challenges, especially when I’m able to help people who face similar challenges. Some of the difficulties I’ve experienced range from combining difficult academic course work with other extracurricular activities I involve myself in, gender bias from society and friends with regards to my chosen profession, as well trying to stay focused while combining an active social and professional life.
Tell me more about African Sisters in STEM. What inspired you to start the organisation and why do you care about mentoring and supporting young girls in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields?
I have been fortunate enough to work with a lot of young girls through my diverse volunteer programs. Over time I observed that girls had an unusual fear of science, mathematics and engineering. I also observed that many also had a backward approach towards solving complex problems, and would rather leave it to their male counterparts. Thus, after much investigation and discussion, I figured out what many of these girls lacked. They didn’t have professional role models, exposure and opportunities to grow in the STEM fields. This piqued my interest in building a network for interactive learning and collaborations among African women in STEM.
African Sisters in STEM (A-SISTEM) was borne out of the desire to help young women discover their true potential while networking and experiencing the benefits of taking up a degree in STEM. A-SISTEM offers a fun, interactive and hands-on STEM curriculum in schools, as well as mentorship opportunities for young girls. We are a start-up organisation that wants to revamp the African education system and empower young women. It is a growing network, which hopes to breed a generation of STEM professional women that train, engage and network with one another.
What has it been like trying to run African Sisters in STEM while having a full-time job? Do you have support structures?
To be honest it isn’t easy combining both. As a start-up we still face challenges getting support and managing this project. However, as a team we have delegated tasks and are looking at expansion. Although this has limited our output and other selected programs, we are working towards getting more people involved and creating a structure that sees everyone being fully utilized without undue pressure.
How would you like us to get involved with African Sisters in STEM?
I’m already a fan of Our Friends lol, and absolutely love the work you are doing. I would really love Our Friends to become our partners especially in spreading the word about the work we are doing all across the shores of Africa and beyond.
So many people get stripped bare by life and forget that it’s more than just about getting a job, money, a family and then dying. Why are you so different? Were you always surrounded by people who challenged you to think outside the box or did you have a moment of serendipity which changed how you looked at the world?
Oh yes, I have always had to make difficult decisions to overcome both personal and other challenges over the years. As I mentioned earlier, I’m more of a fighter and I’m someone with a stubborn attitude. I rise above challenges. I have always wanted to inspire people. I want people to look at me and say, “You know what? I want to be like you some day.” I’ve had people who support me and challenge me to think outside the box. One is my best friend who believes that all problems have solutions.
I also have supportive people around me willing to help whenever they see me needing help. I am different because I look beyond my physical strength and supposed societal capabilities as a woman. I embrace myself first as a human before letting gender or any other racial bias crowd my judgement and intellect. To me, life is more than living for yourself. It is rather about how much your life influences and makes the other man a better person.
You live in the heart of Abuja. In your vision, what does your ideal city look like?
Abuja is the federal capital of Nigeria. It’s a fun and interesting city too. My ideal city is one that is free from pollution. My ideal city has uninterrupted electricity, basic amenities, good policies and support structures to enhance economic and political developments while encouraging entrepreneurship and good governance.
Following on that question, what small steps could you do right now, or are doing, to make that future happen?
Establishing A-SISTEM is a small step in seeing that happen. Entrepreneurship training is also part of our program. Also as an electrical engineer, I have a special interest in the power sector and seeing a total transformation in this industry. I undergo training, and complete workshops and academic coursework so that I can gain the adequate knowledge and skills to set up a power company someday. I also partake in good governance and dialogue interactive sessions through my affiliations with other civil society organisations engaged.
Which women have inspired you to be greater than you are?
My mother is one of the most supportive and hardworking women I know. She has always supported me in any project or program I embarked on. She did this while showing resilience and hardwork as a true African woman. I am also inspired by Dr Unoma Okoroafor. Her intelligence, determination and commitment to empowering African women through STEM is truly inspiring. Hilary Clinton is another women that inspires me to be greater. I admire her determination to lead and support her country while facing opposition.
I want you to complete this sentence, “I have one wish and I wish…”
I have one wish and I wish that Africa would become the economic and political envy of other continents one day.
Photos by Yetunde Dada