Breaking Barriers: Meet UTG Mathematics Lecturer Shaping the Future of Traffic Engineering

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Mrs. Nafy Aidara

By: Awa Conteh 

In the World of academia and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, women continue to shatter glass ceilings and redefine the boundaries of what is possible.

Today, we have the privilege of introducing you to one such remarkable individual, a trailblazer who is not only an esteemed university Mathematics lecturer but is also on a mission to revolutionize the field of traffic engineering. Join us as we delve into the inspiring journey of Mrs. Nafy Aidara, a woman who is making her mark at the intersection of mathematics and transportation, proving that the world of STEM knows no gender bounds. 

As we continue our celebration of Women in STEM, this is a story of resilience, innovation, and a passion for change. 

Becoming a mathematician often begins with a great passion and natural talent for mathematics from one’s early school experiences. Young Nafy Aidara has had a strong interest in mathematics and science since elementary school. A specialization in the sciences at high school led her to The Gambia College, where she began her career as a science educator. 

At first, pursuing interests outside of mathematics never occurred to her. Her journey was propelled exclusively by an innate ardor and affection in the absence of a mentor and with parents who had not received formal schooling. The boundaries of societal expectations were destroyed as she accepted the challenge of competing with her male competitors, always aiming for leadership as her primary goal. She faced every challenge that came her way, armed with persistence and an unwavering passion for the sciences. 

After several years of teaching, the remarkable Nafy made the critical decision to pursue a university degree in mathematics. This academic journey led to a position as a graduate assistant in the mathematics department of the University of The Gambia. In this role, her responsibilities included assisting students in understanding mathematical concepts and helping senior lecturers. 

Following two rewarding years as a graduate assistant, she was awarded a scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in industrial engineering and management. This field piqued her interest due to its heavy reliance on mathematical computations. Although the path was initially tricky, she persisted and found joy in conquering hurdles, which deepened her love for mathematics. After completing her master’s degree, she continued her teaching career in The Gambia, focusing on mathematics and disciplines related to industrial engineering. 

Over time, Mrs. Aidara became increasingly concerned about The Gambia’s traffic problems, to which she was confident that mathematics could bring solutions. She believed mathematics embodies a lifestyle, a versatile tool for surmounting practical challenges. Once the foundational principles of mathematics are assimilated, they become a perennial resource for addressing real-world dilemmas. This commitment led her to earn a PhD in highway and traffic engineering. 

In essence, her journey exemplifies the transformational power of passion and determination. It demonstrates how a strong interest in mathematics and an unwavering devotion to solving real-world problems may propel one to pursue additional education and new solutions.

Mrs. Aidara’s journey as a female mathematician has been fraught with difficulties, ranging from a lack of mentors and strong support networks to the occasional belittlement by male peers and pupils. Living in a male-dominated environment makes it even more challenging to obtain enough support. The risk of verbal or physical abuse exists, necessitating vigilance. The classroom setting can be challenging; encountering pupils who are hesitant to learn under the supervision of a woman is demoralizing, and coercion into a perceived lack of choice is not unusual. Gender bias frequently occurs, viewing women who excel in mathematics as striving to emulate masculine attributes.

“A humorous aside illustrates this: during one of my classes, a student quipped, “Madam, you’re teaching math like a man—posing questions fit for men. What’s the matter with you?” It is a playful comment, yet it encapsulates the complexities faced.

To surmount these challenges, I have made it a tenet to master mathematics to the utmost, pre-empting any opportunity for challenge in this domain. In addition, I’ve cultivated an array of teaching skills encompassing classroom management and contemporary pedagogical techniques. These efforts are underpinned by a commitment to perpetual learning, ensuring that I remain well-versed in the latest developments”, she told Alkamba Times. 

As a result, Mrs. Aidara earned a reputation for being both demanding and brilliant in her teaching style. Her strictness is matched by an unshakable willingness to assist students. She works long hours to support them, providing tutorials and counseling, believing that education should be a level playing field for all students, regardless of gender or societal norms.

In terms of how women can be encouraged to pursue careers in traffic engineering, she believes that by embracing the unique perspectives and insights that each gender can offer, we can enrich the field and drive innovation in a variety of ways, including mentorship and role modeling, education and outreach programs, visibility of women in traffic engineering to dispel stereotypes, creating support networks, addressing bias by encouraging diversity in hiring practices, and promoting diversity in hiring practices. 

“By embracing diversity and fostering an inclusive environment, we can harness the untapped potential of women in STEM to drive meaningful advancements in traffic engineering and create safer, more efficient transportation systems for everyone,” she said. 

Following her doctorate, Mrs Aidara hopes to inspire the next generation of traffic engineers by teaching them about the ever-changing sector. She aspires to cultivate individuals well-equipped to create positive change in traffic engineering by providing technical knowledge and a holistic viewpoint that incorporates sustainability, social equity, and technology innovation. 

She is also dedicated to fostering diversity and inclusion in traffic engineering while contributing to a future in which traffic engineering is synonymous with efficient, sustainable, and people-centric urban mobility solutions, resulting in well-connected cities that are liveable and resilient cities for future generations.

When asked about the advice she would give to young women aspiring to enter STEM fields, especially those related to mathematics and engineering, our remarkable trailblazer urged young aspiring STEM feminists to embrace their passion, believe in themselves, and not be deterred by traditional gender roles or stereotypes associated with STEM fields.

“The journey may be challenging, but every step you take contributes to breaking down barriers for future generations. Your presence in STEM fields is essential, and your contributions have the power to shape a more diverse, equitable, and innovative future. Embrace the path ahead with confidence and determination”, she said.

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