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Why I Decided to Help Girls in Africa Learn STEM Subjects

Why I Decided to Help Girls in Africa Learn STEM Subjects main image

Engineering graduate Tina Taylor (pictured above, center, wearing blue) first became aware of the importance of promoting education as a teenager. At the age of 14, she was teaching math to community college students and had developed a keen interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) subjects. Unfazed by the stereotype of these subjects and their associated careers as being male-dominated, Tina went on to study engineering at university and work at General Electric. Now, she’s using the skills she learned in her previous jobs and while studying the TRIUM Global Executive MBA to set up a series of academies across Africa, opening up STEM education to a whole generation of African girls who may not have had the opportunity otherwise.

We spoke to Tina to learn more about her network of Heritage Leadership Academies, and why she feels more women should be working in STEM fields.

How did you find your university experience? Did people treat you differently as a woman studying engineering?

I enjoyed my university days. Becoming President of the Society of Women Engineers and President for of all the Presidents within the College of Engineering gave me a unique opportunity to work with students, faculty and business leaders who had a diverse voice and perspective on why it was important to include women in Engineering.

During my studies, I don’t recall feeling different studying mechanical engineering. As young promising engineers, we collectively wanted to glean as much as we could from the opportunities we were given. However, I experienced discrimination both as a woman and as an African American during the engineering competitions we attended. The level of heightened intensity in a competitive environment evoked unruly behavior at times. However, it was these distinctive moments that made me realize that my presence and capability to compete with conviction disturbed some people.  It was those who felt threatened that I was taking something away from them that gave even more confidence and conviction to help other female engineering professionals break through this invisible wall. 

When would you say you first became aware that engineering and other STEM subjects were dominated by men?

Initially, I wasn’t exposed to the limitations put on what a woman could study or do professionally as my parents supported me completely. However, once I started competing in engineering challenges nationwide, and upon entering the corporate arena, I was able to contextualize some of the things I’d noticed along the way – seeing few women holding leadership roles and being on the receiving end of some misogynist commits once individuals learned I studied Mechanical Engineering and had a love of car engines. It became clear to me the role I needed to play, which became more of a calling later in life. 

Why do you feel it’s important to broaden access to STEM subjects?

I believe that when young girls learn STEM subjects, it opens their minds to the many possibilities that will broaden and improve their lives and career choices globally. It also boosts their confidence. I choose to focus on Africa for my camps and academies first, but our efforts are global. Any global location in which girls are limited in their ability to learn, compete and participate in the growing economy is a target for us.

Why did you focus on Africa to start with?

Africa has one of youngest populations that will enter the job market, and nearly 50% of them are women. I want us to be an aide to them. Give them the tools to be successful, and help to reshape Africa’s workforce by providing a pipeline of women who can perform highly functioning roles across multiple industries. 

What challenges have you had to overcome so far?

There’s a range of obstacles I have faced in this endeavour, but I am making inroads. One example is getting parents to understand STEM skills and the benefits they can bring to their daughters has taken longer than planned, but with each child and parent that comes through our camps, we create STEM ambassadors, which is promising. Also, once people learn my background being an engineer and business corporate executive, it helps to change the perception of who can study STEM and what these students can do with their education.

How do you intend to increase interest in STEM subjects among young girls?

One of the ways we are increasing young girls’ interest in STEM subjects is through our residential camps and one day events, held together with some of our corporate and university partners, which will be announced later this year. We have a lot of programs and camps we are launching for 2018. Together, we are working to make STEM less intimidating, and expand the understanding and knowledge of the opportunities it can bring. After all STEM is more than engineering and not just for boys. It is a platform and a foundation used to deconstruct, create, or improve anything from agriculture to space. Anyone can have a STEM education that can blossom to a myriad of career options which is a great benefit. 

What are your goals for the future?

Our overall plan and goal is to reach at least 2500 children via our boarding school and our global camps by the end of 2019. We have plans to expand our camps to multiple locations in hopes of planting that seed of excitement for STEM, which will be announced later in 2017. We are thrilled and look forward to providing the tools a young girl can use to reach her potential regardless of social economic background or race.

Click here to learn more about the Heritage Leadership Academies, or here to find Tina on LinkedIn.

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Written by Craig OCallaghan
As editor of TopUniversities.com, Craig oversees the site's editorial content and network of student contributors. He also plays a key editorial role in the publication of several guides and reports, including the QS Top Grad School Guide.

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