Where are you from?
I view my identity as an evolution of learning and experiences. Biologically I am female. Socially I have been raised cisgender and like many heteronormative. This does not mean that I embrace hatred or xenophobia. My tolerance for violence, even so called “benign” violence is zero. Culturally I am a mix of Kenyan, Puerto Rican, Spanish, U.S. and Scandinavian (we are still tracing, most likely Danish) ancestry. History leaves no record of the interactions between those who were oppressed and those who were not. Those who lived free when others were enslaved within the same social groupings we call “race.” Those who protected others from horrors or those separated by horrors. Where is the history of free blacks who were academically gifted and prospered during the slave trade? Int the same manner the fact that I was class valedictorian in high school is not recorded in any newspaper or history book, it is safe to assume the socio-cultural normative bias of any given era does not include the daily life experiences of anyone who foes not conform to the stereotypical perception. As we travel and meet people we though we never knew before, we find out members of the family of those we thought were strangers were in the same place at the same time and for reasons never imagined although quite logical in retrospect (studies, work, a recurring conference/membership group, a favourite vacation spot). Science provides the evidence of the what and the how but never explains the why. Why is subject to our own interpretation in the same manner in which the way we view our relevance and purpose in society shapes our identity. over the years I have learned that the answer to Why is pluralistic even if the factors contributing to the answer are singular. “It is not random, it is chaos” is the constant reminder to explore the ways in which seemingly random and un-associated events are actually patterns of formation that we fail to recognize and acknowledge as legitimate. In every experience, in every identity there are whats and hows that answer the why even if we do not like the answer that is revealed. The same is true for identity and as such, the primary tole of science is to present the evidence and increase understanding.
What is your educational background?
BA Political Science, University of Connecticut (USA)
MSc Public Policy and Management, Carnegie Mellon University, Heinz College (USA)
PhD (candidate) Management [emphasis on strategy and innovation in business and technology for social change, specialty chemicals industry sector, causal network analysis], Walden University (USA)
What is your current occupation?
Associate Lecturer – MA African Women’s Entrepreneurship programme, University of Nairobi African Women’s Studies Centre (AWSC)
Sustainability Coordinator, University of Nairobi African Women’s Studies Centre (AWSC)
Trustee Board Member, Centre for Science and Technology Innovations (CSTI)
Programme Manager, CSTI Green University Network (circular bioeconomy, humanitarian materials, green infrastructure)
Director, UjenziDigiLab, a CSTI green fablab project
Founder, Global Ectropy, a sole proprietorship focused on using chemical technology (safer chemicals & risk management) for positive social transformation
What or who got you into STEM?
My parents. Mom is a biochemist and my Dad is an inorganic chemist. Growing up the in home, discussions and guests were predominantly focused on environmental issues or social reform. Even though most family members did not study natural sciences, the family used scientific reasoning and logic as the basis for discussion. It was not until I reached undergraduate that I became aware of the fact that there are families in which science is never discussed and, in some families, science discussions are forbidden. This was quite mind-boggling to me and required a lot of adjustment, which continues to be a lifetime learning process of awareness that people are very different in behavior and beliefs
What is the biggest challenge/barrier you have faced as an African in STEM?
There is a false belief that Africans cannot do scientific innovation. If one presents a novel idea, the question is immediately raised: where did you get the idea from (implying one has copied). When people from other social groups present their ideas as “novel,” I never hear the same questions. If one challenges the novelty of other ideas, one is immediately called “ignorant.” If one does not talk in parables, one is told one does not know “the African philosophy.” It is quite bizarre how stereotyping is used to govern what is considered “legitimate discourse.”
How do you think your background/upbringing has been beneficial in your journey/career?
Back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, pursuing a multidisciplinary approach was dismissed as “incoherent,” “useless,” and, “professionally incompetent / unfocused.” Today, transdisciplinary approaches are a 21st century skill required for the Future Workforce. Good thing I was focused on jumping about in seemingly unrelated fields that gave me the background needed for managerial competence in applied systems thinking and circular bioeconomy/industrial ecology.
How do you think we can start to change the narrative surrounding African contributions
to global STEM research & careers?
Afro-Futurism is trending right now and there are many who assert “Wakanda is real” even on issues that defy current scientific knowledge. While I am completely against the wanton violence in Wakanda (if we are going to call ourselves creative and imagine an advanced technology future as real, let us imagine a happy and peaceful future), there is a lot to be said for the portrayal of Africans in control of super advanced technologies. The arts have always driven radical innovation, hence the need for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics). What is the purpose of developing biodegradable hydrophobic materials without graphic designers and fashion designers showing us how to use the material for clothing or animation specialists showing us a virtual reality story of what life is like surrounded by such material? Who tells the story of the cultural heritage that created the need for the design we now call “mud cloth”? First, we conceive a different reality, then we achieve it.
What advice would you like to give to young, aspiring Africans in STEM?
Don’t pursue STEM because it is “fashionable” or “prestigious.” Do not pursue STEM expecting you will be lavished by investors rushing to pour billions into your ideas. These are perceptions that change over time. One decade wow, another decade woe. Pursue STEAM because you have a driving passion for using evidence as the continuous basis for discovery and knowledge. There will be plenty of nights in a laboratory wondering why a reaction or experiment is not at all going as planned. There will be days when your sanity and personal integrity are put to the test. There are times when scientific discovery will fly in the face of all social benefits (Galileo paid for his discovery by being condemned and excommunicated). The pursuit of science is a lifelong quest for the truth, even when the truth defies your own personal beliefs and understanding. Pursue STEAM in order to solve the great challenges of our time. http://www.millennium-project.org/challenge-14/
Do you have any projects you’re working on that you would like us to highlight?
https://www.csti.or.ke/hcd-circular-economy-roadma Watch “#LBIIW2019 Lake Basin Innovation & Investment Week” on YouTube Centre of Science and Technology Innovations