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Women in Stem

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“Every single epidemic, I lose colleagues. Doctors/nurses/lab scientists, people I knew personally, people whose work I have followed”

As the reality of the global pandemic continues to stare us in the face, here in Amazons Watch Magazine, our hearts go to all medical personnel and health workers on the frontlines of the battle against Covid-19.

All across the nations of the earth, health workers are putting their lives in line on a daily basis to ensure that the world is delivered from this deadly virus.

By Miracle Nwankwo

There is a growing list of women who are becoming more aware of what it means to be an amazon in a world in dire need of survival. Jackie Y. Ying is an impressive personality, an addition to the list of Muslim women doing and achieving great things on the planet.

Prof. Ying is a woman you should definitely know, especially in an unprecedented time where the whole world is at a standstill following the onslaught and spread of COVID-19 pandemic.

She is the current Executive Director of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) in Singapore. Prof. Ying has been recognized with a number of research awards but most importantly she and her team have just come up with a rapid test that can tell if a person has COVID-19 in less than ten minutes.

For future consumption of this article, the COVID-19 is the abbreviated form of the novel coronavirus disease, discovered in late December 2019, in a city called Wuhan in China. Following several reports of acute respiratory syndrome in Wuhan city, the Chinese scientist moved to research about the cause of the epidemic. Just when the disease was about to be tagged Wuhan virus, it soon spread rapidly into other parts of China causing the death of many.

In early 2020, due to movement of infected persons who were unaware of the infection since the early stage of the virus is unnoticeable, coronavirus became a pandemic ravaging most part of Asia, moving into Europe, Australia, Africa, and the Americas.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly evolving, and outbreak investigations are being carried out by various international health bodies, however, individualistic efforts have been on the rise both from men and women (most especially) to help eradicate the world of the deadly disease.

Therefore, in a time like this we will not resist to praise the effort of Prof. Ying who amongst other researchers in the world is working to innovate a point-of-care test that can help detect COVID-19 easily and on time.

In efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, the World Health Organisation has emphasized on the need to ‘test, test, test’ as way to contain the spread. This has cause a lot of researchers to swing into intense research for the discovery of better ways to develop rapid and accurate diagnosis that can be done without the use of expensive machines which has been the challenge.

Prof. Ying and her team came up with this fast test care after they were challenged by Frederick Chew, Chief Executive of A*Star, a science, technology and research agency in Singapore, who told them to come up with a rapid test for COVID-19. The test when approved will be used for fast-checking COVID-19 and help contain the virus.

About Professor Ying

Prof. Ying is a Taiwanese born in the year 1966 in Taipei the capital city of her home country. She was raised in Singapore and New York. She attended Raffles Girls’ School, in Singapore and at the age of fifteen she and her family to New York.

There in New York, she studied Chemical Engineering from The Cooper Union and graduated with B.E. summa cum laude (indication of the level of distinction with which an academic degree was earned, meaning ‘with highest honor’) in 1987. Jackie furthered her education in Princeton University, a private Ivy League research university in New Jersey, where she received her Master’s degree in chemical engineering in 1988 and her PhD in 1991.

She became a full professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in 2001, she was one of the MIT’s youngest full professors at the time.

She currently serves on the Advisory Board of the Society for Biological Engineering, on the Scientific Advisory Boards of Molecular Frontiers and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology Catalysis Center.

She is also an Honorary Professor at the King Saud University (Saudi Arabia), Jilin University (China), Sichuan University (China) and Nanyang Technological University (Singapore).

Furthermore, she is the Editor-in-Chief of Nano Today, an international peer-reviewed academic journal dedicated to nanoscience and technology, and has 340 publications in leading journals.

Prof. Ying has over 150 primary patents issued or pending, many which have been successfully licensed for commercialization by multinational companies and start-ups. One of the spin-off companies that she co- founded, SmartCells, Inc., has developed a technology platform that is capable of auto-regulating the release of insulin depending on the blood glucose levels.

Prof. Ying is a special woman with a brilliant capacity and a role model for every woman. She clearly dispels the fear of the STEM field, showing the impact of women in world.

The African Technology Industry is beginning to feel the heat of many innovative women who are uniquely building the tech industry in their various regions. In West Africa, Rebecca Enonchong, stands as a dedicated tech entrepreneur with unrestricted dedication towards upholding technology in Africa.

Rebecca was Born in Cameroon in 1967. In her early teens she relocated to the United States with her family. While in the States, she started working as a door-to-door newspaper subscription vendor at the age of 15. When she was 17 she was promoted to the position of a manager at the same company.

Rebecca holds a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in Economics from the Catholic University of America. Having concluded her undergraduate studies, she went on to work for a number of organizations including Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) and Oracle Corporation, and she was also an independent consultant serving multinational clients.

In 1999, after Rebecca founded her footing in tech she pitched her tent in digital technology when she founded AppsTech. AppsTech is a Bethesda, Maryland-based global provider of enterprise application solutions, an Oracle Platinum Partner with customers in over 40 countries in three major continents. It is therefore safe to say that the company has grown into a leading global provider of enterprise application solutions.

Beyond AppsTech, Rebecca has built several other startups and incubators and she sits as the Board chair of several organisations.

She is Board Chair of Afrilabs, a Pan-African network of over 100 innovation centers in over 20 African countries that help mentor entrepreneurs. Also she is the Board Chair of ActivSpaces (African Center for Technology Innovation and Ventures) supporting entrepreneurs from two tech hubs in Cameroon. She is the cofounder and CEO of I/O Spaces, an inclusive co-working space in the Washington DC metro area. She sits on the board of Venture Capital for Africa (VC4Africa), of Salesforce.org, the African Media Initiative, Eneza Education and iamtheCODE.

Rebecca was named a Global Leader for Tomorrow (GLT) along with other tech entrepreneurs such as Google co-founder Larry Page and Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff by the World Economic Forum of Davos, Switzerland in 2002.

In 2013, she was recognized as a finalist for the African digital woman award. 

Rebecca has also gained fame as one of the more followed sources for African tech news on Twitter, with over 30 thousand followers. Her handle, @Africatechie, has become a nickname for Rebecca in IT circles.

In the media world she is not left out been listed as one of the ‘10 Female Tech Founders to Watch in Africa’ by Forbes magazine in March 2014. Also, the New African magazine named her one of the most influential Africans in 2014, 2016 and 2017. She was also listed as one of Africa’s 50 most influential women of 2017 and as one of world’s 50 most influential Africans in 2018, in Jeune Afrique magazine.

She is co-founder of Cameroon Angels Network and co-founder and Vice-President of African Business Angels Network. Rebecca currently serves as a mentor/advisor to several technology startups. She was the founder and Chairperson of the Africa Technology Forum, a non-profit dedicated to helping technology startups in Africa.

The Tech Industry has been greatly impacted by this rare amazon, and we undauntedly consider this a great pleasure to celebrate this great woman in STEM.

There is nothing as powerful as a group of single-minded and strong-willed women who have refused to take no for an answer to what they believe in life. These classes of women are unstoppable to any force that tries to limit them. 

Today, women have begun to dominate all fields and industries especially in fields and countries where they have been underrepresented in the past – the tech-industry for example. It is no longer news when we hear the tremendous results of various women in tech.

In Ghana we have Anne Amuzu-Ewoenam a young, self-motivated and vivacious technology entrepreneur who has pitched a tent for herself in the ICT sector and has impacted on the tech industry in Africa. In 2014, Anne was named one of the 10 female tech founders to watch in Africa by Forbes.

According to Anne, “There is no female brain and male brain, we are all persons not just gender. Career and professions don’t have gender. It’s about your ability, not your gender. So, if there is something you can do, you don’t have to look at who is in there. They are human beings just like you.” 

Anne is known as the co-founder of Nandimobile; a company that develops software that enables business organisations to deliver customer support and information via mobile phones.

Nandimobile was formed in 2010 by Anne and two other students from MEST called Michael Dakwa and Edward Amartey-Tagoe. The software company was created to serve technological needs of organizations and businesses in her home country – Ghana. When Anne spoke about the process undergone in establishing Nandimobile, she said “It was a long process. We went through a lot of refinements, so by the time the actual product was out, it was something people wanted. We have been very, very big on getting feedback from our customers since they are the ones going to use it.”

The company made it first step into limelight in 2010, when its maiden product ‘Gripeline’ was said to solve a worldwide problem and was awarded the Best Business at the Rising Talent launch conference in San Francisco. Nandimobile has gone on to win various other awards within and outside Ghana. Anne has also graced panels across several continents.

Anne was also part of the team that developed an app called Keni. Keni helps to give people an easy access to varieties of essential services like banks and ATM’s, fuel stations, health services, pharmacies and shops in Ghana.

She was part of the #IlooklikeanEngineer campaign on social media. The campaign was aimed at bringing gender disparity and sexism in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) to the fore of discussions.

In order to give back to the society, Anne has devoted herself to teach young Ghanaians how to write code.

In 2013, she was nominated for the Annual Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership Programme.

Since creation, man has been in pursuit of making life much easier for inhabitants of the earth. Anne’s creations make it easier for people within and outside Ghana to send information literally with a few taps on a phone. For this reason, Amazons Watch Magazine is delighted to share her story and her dedicated effort in standing up for women in the technology industry and also looking out for the growth of others in order that they might become better versions of themselves.

To every female entrepreneurs Anne says: “Find your passion and what you are good at. Learn and read a lot on it and just do it. Sometimes we over-analyze and it paralyses our ideas. Ideas are nothing if they are not implemented. Ideas and visions are always clearer when you start implementing them.”

Across the globe there are young and resilient personalities in the STEM fields who have been adding values to the STEM industry and impacting on the lives of other people through research, innovations and special initiatives.

In the Middle East, we have Aya Mouallem a young Lebanese university undergraduate who is working to make the world a better place. Aya is the co-founder of All Girls Code, a nonprofit initiative that is helping young women in the Middle East find a footing in STEM.

During the Devex World 2018 in Washington, D.C., Aya shares her story on how her journey in STEM began and how far she had gone in helping fellow women in the Middle East.  An excerpt from Johnson & Johnson.

“I was always a curious kid. I asked way too many questions about how everything works—so much so that my teachers and parents frequently had to look up the answers just to satisfy me. And I was always tinkering with things.

In Arab communities, including in my home country of Lebanon, girls unfortunately are not encouraged to do these things—they are only expected to play with dolls. Thankfully, my parents encouraged my tinkering skills.

At a young age, I was fixing PCs and smartphones, and began to learn coding on my own. In high school, a friend and I taught ourselves Python—a type of computer programming language—and used it to create a program that designed spiral staircases. The project ended up winning all the science fairs we participated in.

Naturally, I decided to pursue computer engineering when I enrolled in the American University of Beirut in 2016. In my first software engineering class, I was one of two girls in a lab with more than 20 students. As I moved up in my degree, the overall number of girls decreased even more. I never felt disrespected or underestimated because of that gender disparity, but I was troubled by it.

One day, when a female friend of mine did not do well on an exam, she laughed and said, ‘Aya, I shouldn’t worry about my grade. I can always get married, have kids and stay at home!’

I was shocked because I was not raised that way. But soon, I heard this opinion echoed by several other young women at school. I also came to know women who transferred out of computer engineering because they were disheartened by how few females they saw in the field. That is when I realized just how much a role society plays in why girls tend to avoid the engineering field, or join it only to leave before they have made their mark—and it frustrated me.

I reached my breaking point when an older family friend questioned my choice of major by saying that ‘females cannot do that type of complex math.’ That comment struck me as wrong on so many levels. But, I thought: If I cannot correct the archaic mentalities of many of the older generation, I can at least help the next.

That is when I decided that I would work to get young girls interested in STEM and help them feel confident in their abilities, so if they decided to pursue STEM fields, they would not feel pressured to drop out because of societal expectations and stereotypes.

I talked to my classmate Maya Moussa about my plans to start an initiative around these ideas, and together in March 2017, we founded All Girls Code, which provides free, hands-on coding experience and technology workshops to girls up to the age of 18 in Lebanon.

The Impact of All Girls Code—All the Way to Google

We have been around for a year now, and in that time, 100 girls have been introduced to STEM in an empowering environment, taken crash courses in leadership training, participated in a hackathon, built websites and apps, and learned and applied university-level algorithms. I am very proud to say that 90% of the girls who have attended All Girls Code programs—and applied to universities—have chosen to pursue STEM fields.

I am also proud that all of our work so far has been done by volunteers on zero budget. At times, between other university students and the parents of participants, we have had as many as 100 people helping us out. We host our events at the university Maya and I attend, so we do not pay to reserve a place. The computer science and engineering departments at our school have also been very helpful and supportive, installing any additional software we may need.

All of this resourcefulness has paid off.

We were honored by Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri when he announced All Girls Code as a partner in his Summer of Innovation Program, which celebrated activities in the areas of innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity.

Maya and I were chosen as Women Techmakers by Google because of our work to encourage females to pursue tech fields, and I was announced as a Stanford she++ Ambassador, and consequently attended the she++ Gala in Silicon Valley, which celebrates diversity in technology.

I mention all of this because I want to set an example for all girls. I want them to know that they can change the world if they set their minds to it.

In the next year, Maya and I plan to collaborate with tech companies to further expand All Girls Code. We have funding from Stanford she++, which we will use to buy parts for hands-on robotics workshops. We plan to carry on with our work for free so that everyone can participate, including refugees, who we welcomed at our last event.

We are also currently working on developing a board for the initiative, since Maya and I will be spending more time abroad soon, and we want to be sure that those who take over the day-to-day running of the program will be ready for the challenge.

There is always a space for a go-getter, Aya’s story has inspired and push many young girls into pursuing their dreams.

Despite the patriarchal nature of most Middle East countries, women from the region have been able to carve a niche for themselves in almost all facets of life.

Among these women is Iba Masood, a successful woman in STEM. Iba is a Pakistani woman born and raised in the United Arab Emirates. She is the co-founder and CEO of a project-planning and recruiting company called Tara AI.

Iba is a hardworking and purpose-driven woman, who currently heads the evolution of TARA Intelligence Inc. in Silicon Valley. Her company has recently raised $3 million in new seed funding from YCombinator, Moment Ventures, GSV and others. Prestigious organisations like; Ford, Cisco and Orange Telecom are using artificial intelligence from Tara AI to find top coders for freelance software projects.

She was thirteen-years-old when she bore the dream that births her present status. She had always wanted to own a tech-related company in the United States, one that would come to being with her ignition, and grow to become a huge, useful, successful, and resourceful to the technology industry.

In pursuit of this dream, she went on to study and at the age of nineteen, Iba gained a Bachelor’s in Finance and was the top of her class. Unfortunately, she had graduated at a time when the world was hit with global economic recession. Despite her good grades, getting hired was a huge problem for Iba, so she was unemployed for a long time. However, she stayed focused and continued to apply jobs while looking out for opportunities to begin creating the future she had dreamt of. 

Finally, her dedicated efforts began to bear fruits when she was accepted into a trainee program at McKinsey which paved the way for her new role at GE. Although on getting to GE she was offered a very low salary, she was not perturbed, rather, finding herself in a job that pushed her towards her career extremely challenged her. The job exposed her career instability, which made her realized that she needed to grow and gain capability in order to support herself financially, do work that was rewarding to her, and have the potential for growth and development in her future.

So she stayed focused in gaining stability which was her topmost priority at the time and it pushed her to take premeditated risks to attain her goals. She foresaw the beauty in taking risks because of the potential reward that it could bring. She had resolved that if she was not getting what she expected she would go the extra mile to get to her dreams.

Iba founded her first company at age 21, which started out as a career platform for graduates to find jobs. At its inception, the platform was dedicated to catering for hundreds of Enterprise customers in the Middle East. She had always wanted to create a platform that would yield profit, jobs, and many more useful tools and products for the technology industry. Iba belived in herself that she had something that would be an advantage to the tech industry. She wanted to create something that had even more potential, and her previous success boosted her confidence to move forward.

Iba first came to the US on a visit visa and eventually stayed with the pull of her latest dream and entrepreneurial endeavor called TARA. She soon realized that her preconceived faultless view of the U.S.’s technology sector was not so true to reality. She had thought that the industry was a merit-based space in which everyone had a fair and equal shot. However, contrary to her perception she realized that being a woman and/or a person of color in the start-up world means it may be more challenging for you to get funding, or get opportunities for starting out/growth that others may get more easily. Having lived/worked in multiple countries/cultures, Iba resolved that the US has a long way to go in improving opportunity for minority groups.

Facing these challenges, Iba’s resolve was strengthened that the platform she was working on, TARA.AI, was a tool with which she could make positive and required impact in the industry. TARA’s Intelligence is used by software companies to predict and build an early version of their product. This allows a company to predict the tasks they will have to accomplish, and the milestones they will have to reach in order to successfully execute launching a new product.

A part of her journey that Iba is very proud of is having TARA become a YCombinator company. Iba first applied to YC at 17, and was not accepted. When she was 26, she gave it another shot but this time she was intimidated, feeling that as someone without an ivy league degree and as a Silicon Valley outsider, she may not get accepted. But despite the very real fear, she applied anyway – and not only got an interview, she also got the job.

She often tells her team that no woman is an island. Learn to build a network of friends, partnerships, mentors, peers, advisors, so you never feel that you are working alone. A solid way to ensure consistent development and growth is to surround yourself with a network of people who will constantly push you to grow, look at problems from different angles, and above all, keep believing in your innate ability. 

Her words to other women: At every stage of the process (even when you’ve seen years of success), surround yourself with people who are smarter than you – absorb their wisdom to ensure broadened understanding, and ever-increasing knowledge toward happiness and success.