To join the global movement to inspire girls to pursue careers in STEM fields and in celebration of International Girls in ICT Day (April 22, 2021), Power Africa organized a ‘West African Girls in STEM Webinar’ on April 16 featuring four female speakers — two professionals and two college-level students — representing various STEM fields:
● Eunice Biritwum, an electrical engineer with over two decades of experience in the power sector in both Ghana and the U.S.
● Kira Rosi-Schumacher, who has an academic background in engineering physics and has been supporting international development projects, with a special focus on energy development, for the past eight years.
● Afua Boateng, a senior computer science major from Ashesi University in Ghana
● Nicole Deprey, a sophomore computer science major from the U.S. Naval Academy.
The discussion included topics such as what inspired the panelists to pursue their current path and who their role models are.
Kira, who grew up in a family of scientists, said “My true inspiration was my mother. She was a big advocate of pursuing your own dreams…. It was always, find your passion, go for it, and everything else will fall into place.”
Eunice gives much credit to her physics teacher: “It seemed like the world just came alive as he explained why things worked the way they did.”
Nicole credits her older sister, a computer science professional, for inspiring her to pursue this field, as well as the desire to excel in a male-dominated field: “There’s one girl (for every four boys) at the Naval Academy. This inspires me to stick up for myself and prove that as women, we can do this and we are just as good as the men and there doesn’t need to be this barrier between us.”
Myths About STEM Careers
The STEM professionals were also asked what they think the biggest myths are about STEM careers.
“As a woman (you’re told) you won’t be as effective in your field or be able to make a difference. I have never been in a room where being a woman was the disadvantage from perspective. You are always able to bring a different perspective to the room because you are a woman,” said Kira.
Eunice, on the other hand, said, “As a student and as a professional, (I have encountered) all these stereotypes that people have, and they expect you to fit into them. They feel that you’re not too feminine or that you can’t pursue a career and not have a family life.”
Advice and Encouragement
When asked what advice they could share with the girls, Afua offered this: “Sometimes it takes a while before you’re able to say ‘these are my interests.’ It takes a lot of self-reflection. It (also) comes from having a strong support system. Always try to learn from people who have come before you. I have a lot of role models in the form of mentors. It takes a village. I am only here because of many women.”
For her part, Kira’s advice was: “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. We’re always afraid to sound like we don’t know and that we have to prove we’re worth being in the room. You’re already in the room! You’re worth being in the room because you’re already there. Don’t be afraid to stand out and take charge of the situation.”
Finally, Eunice encouraged the girls to “Pursue your dreams, don’t give up. There will be naysayers but keep focused. STEM is fun and rewarding…. Surround yourselves with other women who are like-minded and who challenge you to do better.”
One of the participants, Ms. Gifty Ghansah, Head Teacher of African Science Academy in Ghana, noted at the end of the webinar: “(It was) a very inspirational and insightful webinar, which hopefully our girls have found informative. Particularly, having the seasoned panelists share their stories on breaking down barriers in their chosen fields…some amazing questions from the students. Well done to all.”