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Slaying in STEM Fields: African Women Trailblazers

When news broke that Augusta Uwamanzu-Nna gained acceptance into all eight Ivy League schools, the internet went crazy celebrating Nigerian excellence. We now know that her official choice is Harvard, where she will study biochemistry and environmental

Augusta Uwamanzu-Nna

When news broke that Augusta Uwamanzu-Nna gained acceptance into all eight Ivy League schools, the internet went crazy celebrating Nigerian excellence. We now know that her official choice is Harvard, where she will study biochemistry and environmental science. A rarity as a woman in science, Uwamanzu-Nna was picked as a finalist in the 2016 Intel Talent Search and in early Spring presented her civil engineering research project at the White House Science Fair.


“As a high schooler, what really explains my recent accomplishment is finding something I am passionate about, and not being afraid of stepping outside of my comfort zone.” – Uwamanzu-Nna


Still, women are widely underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) careers. In the U.S., women make up only 24% of the work force in STEM fields, wherein black women make up a far less percentage at 6.4%. It can be assumed then, that the presence of African women is even lower.


Nevertheless, Uwamanzu-Nna does not walk in unfamiliar territory. African women who have achieved in these fields exist. Their success sheds an encouraging light to show that African women are thriving in STEM disciplines.


The lives, stories, and careers of these women are inspiring, and they should be among our heroes.


Wangari Maathai, Founder of the Green Belt Movement, Kenya

Wangari MaathaiNobel Peace Prize Laureate, Wangari Maathai, is an important figure in science for African women. From her rural roots in Kenya, Dr. Maathai traveled to the U.S. where she received an undergraduate degree in Biological Science and a master’s degree in Science. In pursuing doctoral studies in the 1970s, she became the first woman in East and Central Africa to receive a doctoral degree. An advocate for environmental conservation and human rights, Dr. Maathai later founded the Green Belt Movement, an organization focused on reducing poverty and conserving the environment.


With fellow Nobel laureates, she founded the Nobel Women’s Initiative and soon after worked to protect Congo’s forest by participating as co-chair of the Congo basin Fund. Dr. Maathai’s hardwork in conservation, agriculture, and human rights was rewarded when the United Nations named her a UN Messenger of Peace, a title that gave her the duty to spread awareness about environmental and climate change. Her legacy continues to go on as the Green Belt Movement continues to empower women and communities through environmental conservation.


Unoma Ndili Okorafor, Founder of WAAW, Nigeria

Unoma Ndili Okorafor

Unoma Ndili Okorafor is the Founder and Chief Executive of The WAAW (Working to Advance Science and Technology Education for African Women) foundation, a nonprofit organization that seeks to advance the engagement of African women in STEM disciplines. Through her education in Nigeria and the U.S., Dr. Okorafor specialized in Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering. She is a graduate of the prestigious INSEAD school and Stanford, and participated in the Social Entrepreneurship program for both institutions.


Among her accolades is a fellowship with the Alfred P. Sloane Foundation, guest-speaking at the Women in Science and Engineering Conference, and an award from the Anita Borg Institute which honors women distinguished in technology leadership. One of her foundation’s major goals is to increase the participation of African women by 10% in STEM fields and to build female technology innovators.


Rapelang Rabana, Founder & CEO of Rekindle Learning, South Africa

Rapelang Rabana

Rabana is a technology hero on the Continent, a title sealed the day she was featured on the cover of Forbes Africa. This done before the age of 30. Named as one of Africa’s best young entrepreneurs, Rabana is focused on innovation and pioneering mobile VoIP and IP communications. Rabana first co-founded Yeigo, then founded Rekindle Learning, a company focused on education technology. The company believes in empowering individuals with the ability to develop and learn. Rabana, too, believes in the transformative power of mobile technology as a solution to socio-economic challenges.


Godliver Businge, Civil Engineer, Uganda

Godliver Businge

When Businge realized she wanted to become an engineer, she transferred her enrollment from African Rural University to the Uganda Rural Development Training Vocational Institute where she specialized in construction and graduated at the top of her class. After attending St. Joseph’s Technical Institute, Businge graduated with high marks from the school and at the age of 25, worked to build pico-hydro dams to provide power for homes in Kagadi, Uganda. In an interview, she boasted that the electricity allowed children to read [at night], reduced the need to walk long distances, and gave power to a rural school for the utilization of their computers.


Businge is associated with the Global Women’s Water Initiative (GWWI) as a head technology trainer, tasked with training women in water technologies. Among her goals is to inspire women to pursue careers in engineering and become financially independent.


Want us to feature other amazing African woman in STEM ? Tell us about them below!

Ademidun Adejobi
Ademidun Adejobi is a graduate student of English with a focus on minority literature. She believes in the importance of stories as a way to empower the underrepresented and give a voice to identities that lie outside of the tradition. She is an Editor and writer with Applause Africa.
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