By: Awa Conteh
Welcome to a special episode of the Women in STEM column, where we will spotlight the journey of Women in STEM(WiSTEM) Gambia as they mark their first anniversary. In this episode, we celebrate the remarkable achievements of an organization that has made waves in the world of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).
In the heart of The Gambia, a remarkable community has been quietly shaping the future of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education and careers. Women in STEM Gambia, a non-profit organization, is celebrating its first anniversary with pride and a profound sense of accomplishment. Since its inception, the organization has been instrumental in breaking barriers and empowering women in Gambia to pursue and excel in STEM fields. As we commemorate this significant milestone, we reflect on the incredible journey of Women in STEM Gambia and its transformational impact on the lives of countless women and girls. We look to the promising future it is helping to create.
WiSTEM was established in October 2022 in response to a noticeable gender disparity in engineering. Mrs Kodou Jeng, the founder and current president, recognized the need for more women to participate in STEM professions after working in the engineering area for two decades.
After some investigation, it became clear that STEM fields were key to boosting The Gambia’s development. The association’s ultimate objective is clear and ambitious: to promote greater equity and improve access to resources and mentorship for girls and young women. Its goal is for women to account for roughly half of all Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) professionals in our country during the next two decades.
The association began with just six members, all women with backgrounds in STEM fields.
Today, the organization has a robust membership of almost 1,000 people. This figure includes professional members who have made a name for themselves in their fields and student members from six different educational institutions.
The motivation to establish WiSTEM also stemmed from the desire to inspire and mentor the younger generation. Over the past year, the fundamental pillar of Women in STEM Gambia’s success has been its commitment to mentorship. Recognizing the transformative power of guidance and support, the organization has established chapters in six different schools, providing young women and girls access to mentors who serve as beacons of inspiration and knowledge.
It has developed a program framework for each chapter, in which students will actively participate in STEM-related activities. These mentors offer academic guidance and the belief that dreams are attainable. Through these mentorship programs, Women in STEM Gambia is nurturing the seeds of future scientists, engineers, and innovators, helping them overcome obstacles and reach for the stars.
Women in STEM Gambia has harnessed the power of technology to broaden its reach and impact. The organization runs a captivating webinar series that delves into a wide range of STEM-related topics with its members as guests. These webinars serve as knowledge-sharing forums, sparking intellectual curiosity and stimulating interest in STEM fields.
The “My Journey So Far” series has also emerged as a powerful narrative platform. It showcases successful women in STEM, sharing their stories, struggles, and triumphs. These stories inspire young girls to see themselves in these remarkable role models and instill the belief that their own journey can lead to similar heights. It’s also a call to action, urging society to recognize and celebrate the contributions of women in these fields.
Women in STEM Gambia recognizes that breaking barriers goes beyond mentorship and webinars. The organization actively fosters a culture of opportunity sharing and collaboration. It connects aspiring STEM enthusiasts with scholarships, internships, and career opportunities, forging partnerships with educational institutions and industry leaders. By breaking down these barriers to entry, the community is paving the way for a more diverse, inclusive, and innovative STEM community. It exemplifies the organization’s dedication to ensuring every woman or girl is included in pursuing their STEM dreams.
Moving forward, the association has also crafted two operational documents, one for a reality TV Show named STEMATHON, where students can compete in STEM-related projects before a panel of judges. The second document focuses on climate change mitigation. Preparation for the STEMATHON is in the final stages, and its launch is imminent.
WiSTEM is also gearing up for a groundbreaking event in November 2023 – its inaugural conference. At this momentous occasion, the community will unveil the introduction of scientific research initiatives among senior secondary school girls. Additionally, the team is diligently working on another significant program, currently in the planning stages, which envisions a grand STEM fair for senior schools and university students, poised to revolutionize STEM engagement.
Of course, no journey is without its challenges. Women in STEM Gambia have faced financial constraints and resource limitations. Yet, their unwavering determination and resilience have propelled them forward. Additionally, the pressing need for a minibus is paramount to facilitate their outreach programs to provincial sites across The Gambia. During its official launch, the team formally requested essential resources, including an office space, which will serve as the nerve center for administrative and research activities, benefiting its members and the community. Similarly, it sought a conference hall that could be utilized for organizational functions and rented out to the public, with the proceeds channeled toward advancing the community’s mission and activities. These critical resources are pivotal in furthering the association’s goals and expanding its reach in empowering women and girls in STEM.
In conclusion, Women in STEM Gambia’s first year has been inspiring. Their relentless commitment to empowering, celebrating, and advocating for women and girls in STEM has set the stage for a brighter future. As we celebrate this remarkable milestone, we acknowledge that the future belongs to these empowered and celebrated women in STEM, and together, we shall shape a world where their brilliance knows no bounds.