GradImpact: Promoting Technology Innovation in Africa by Empowering Young Girls to Pursue STEM Education

    In 2008, Unoma Okorafor completed her doctorate in electrical and computer engineering from Texas A&M University. As a Sloan Scholar at Texas A&M, Dr. Okorafor founded Working to Advance STEM Education for African Women (WAAW) Foundation, an international non-profit organization that seeks to “increase the pipeline of African women entering into Science and Technology fields and ensure they are engaged in Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship to benefit Africa.” WAAW sponsors STEM camps for young girls in 10 African countries and provides coding workshops, outreach, training programs, and scholarships. Her vision is to provide African girls with choices by exposing them early on to the various career opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) and Computer Science (CS) fields.


    In addition to educating the girls and young women, Okorafo found it necessary to spend time educating their communities on why foundations like WAAW are needed. The overall sentiment seemed to be that no one was stopping girls from pursuing a STEM-focused education. Okorafor begs to differ. Domestic violence, poverty, sexual violence, teenage pregnancy, unequal divisions of household labor, and the inability to own property in some African countries are all barriers for women, and Okorafor is determined to change this. “I think our communities need to empower more girls to speak up, and to own their space, even if it’s in the STEM fields where it’s male dominated, because we do have something to contribute.” 


    In addition to a Sloan Foundation Fellowship, Dr. Okorafo received the AAUW Engineering Dissertation Fellowship and the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Fellowship for promoting STEM education. She has also worked at Texas Instruments, Intel, HP, and IBM researchlabs. To learn more about Unoma’s work visit the Texas A&M University website.


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    The CGS GRADIMPACT project draws from member examples to tell the larger story of graduate education. Our goal is to demonstrate the importance of graduate education not only to degree holders, but also to the communities where we live and work. Do you have a great story to share about the impact of master’s or doctoral education? Visit our WEBSITE for more information.


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