STEM Bridge Nigeria: Creating Access to Opportunities for Young Ladies

By Kalu Okoronkwo

STEM Bridge Nigeria was recently unveiled in Nigeria. Its mission is  to empower, support and encourage Nigerian girls interested in STEM by combatting the systemic lack of confidence, emphasizing the variety of STEM occupations and providing them with opportunities that encourage learning and hands-on experience.  

The initiative is the brainchild of Kaosi Anyanwu a Nigerian-American Software Engineer based in the United States of America (USA)who is the Founder and CEO of STEM Bridge Incorporated, an NGO. Kaosi is a Software Engineer, and currently building the cloud at Microsoft using machine learning and other artificial intelligence concepts. She is a Real Estate Investor, Private Maths Tutor, Career Coach and Counselor.

Importance of STEM. 

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. 

STEM education is very important in confidence building and helping to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills at a very young age. STEM is a part of our lives and helps to develop inquisitive mindsets. 

Science is everywhere in the world around us, Technology is continuously expanding and improving every aspect of our lives, Engineering tackles challenges and solves problems and Mathematics at the basic level is in every activity we do and at the advanced level imperative for logical reasoning, projections and modeling… you can’t run away from Math. By exposing the younger generation to STEM and giving them opportunities to explore STEM-related concepts, they can develop a passion for it and maybe one day pursue a STEM field. STEM education is a vital aspect of our future. It is what inspires innovation and solutions. 

About STEM BRIDGE in Nigeria, and its impact so far in terms of mentorship programme, acceptance and participation 

STEM Bridge is fairly new! It came to fruition early in 2022. The impact so far has been impressive going by the giant strides recorded by its two programmes in December, 2022. Over 100 girls are currently STEM prospects and even more are interested in participating in its nationwide programmes and bootcamps. The Platform have provided girls with STEM opportunities and provided them with access to universities as well as leadership and volunteer opportunities.

Also several young girls have been exposed to accomplished female leaders to drink from their fountain of knowledge, and they have listened to upcoming female tech professionals and female STEM undergraduates from Pan African University School of Science and Technology on STEM disciplines, opportunities, challenges and prospects.  The goal is to produce well rounded girls, by focusing on the leadership and volunteer skills of young girls in addition to the academic and curricula component. 

About career and professional paths available for STEM majors

STEM has a lot of career opportunities available to those interested. As an engineer, you have so many career paths or specializations; Mechanical, Software, Chemical, Industrial, Petroleum, etc. There are also the medical fields of medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, etc. and now, with data playing a huge part in the world, there are fields such as Data Scientists, Data Analysts etc. The exciting proposition is that not all STEM majors are in STEM-related industries. For example, you can have a career in STEM in the financial industry as a Business or Financial Analyst for example or even a Software Engineer. Or even in Education, as a Research Scientist or a STEM Teacher or Professor.

The purpose of STEM interactive awareness event in Lagos 

Code named – An Afternoon with STEM Bridge. 

The event was an opportunity for students to interact with diverse and accomplished female corporate leaders, and to be exposed to a wide variety of STEM programs and careers, participate in enrichment activities, and learn about the organization. 

Lead discussants at the Leadership panel session were Mrs Owen Omogiafo, President and CEO of Transcorp Plc and Mrs Uzo Oshogwe, Managing Director of Afriland Properties Plc, who shared their educational and career experiences and gave insights as to how they can encourage more Nigerian girls into STEM roles and empower them for leadership positions. Also participating was the Pan-Atlantic University’s School of Science and Technology, Dean Dr. Darlington Agholor and their 300 level female students who came to share their college experience and STEM programs.

Students also got the chance to play games such as Trivia and Jenga! There was also a side attraction of a raffle draw event where winners went home with STEM Bridge tote bags and an Amazon Echo dot! 

It was a fun-filled learning experience! Everyone went home that day with a piece of knowledge and inspiration.

STEM Bridge plan to have more of these awareness events that will take different shapes and forms! Last year event was with the theme “Female Empowerment and Leadership”, This year there is also a plan to have a theme geared more towards Innovation and Disruption.

STEM Bridge Annual Charity Event 

It was an entirely different event. The annual Charity event is something to be hosted every year during the Christmas period. The target audience is young girls who otherwise would not have the chance to be exposed to such opportunities. Last year, the Charity Event was titled “A Seat at the Table”.

It was a career panel featuring only young and upcoming female STEM professionals and some from the Creative industry and girls had the opportunity to interact with diverse and accomplished women role models, learn from their experiences and personal career journeys.  Women working in the tech, finance, creative industries as well as founders of start-ups and young entrepreneurs who came to share their knowledge and stories. The forum was exciting, informal and enlightening. The passion in the girls was amazing. One could tell that they wanted to be in this space. We were glad 

The charity event was held at a public secondary school in Lagos because of the desire to provide access to girls attending such schools.

The students of course did not leave for home empty handed. Each student left with a gift bag filled with goodies and merchandise from MTN Nigeria!

 Why promoting STEM among girls in realizing their career goals

There is an inherent fear about STEM subjects and the wrong perception of STEM inclined students as nerds and anti-socials, the bookworms and all such. However, STEM subjects are the easiest if you get the basics right as 

Promoting STEM Girls in Nigeria through scholarship programme for women 

Every year, tens of thousands of female students graduate from junior secondary school to senior secondary school. Some seek to transfer from their current school to other schools. There is a STEM Bridge women scholarship that will open up in January, 2023 made specifically for these girls. This will be our pilot program.

We created this program to recognize and empower high-achieving girls who otherwise would not have an opportunity to receive a high-quality education. The scholarship program focuses on girls who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, who show strong academic performance, and who demonstrate a passion for STEM. 

STEM Bridge is committed to ensuring as many young girls as possible have every opportunity available to obtain a world class education.

To be eligible, you must 

-Be female

-Be currently attending Junior High School (JSS3/Grade 9) and will be planning to enroll in Senior High School(SSS1/Grade 10) in the upcoming school year

-demonstrate financial need

-Have a cumulative grade of 80% or equivalent on another scale

An application is required and this will be reviewed by a scholarship committee made up of current and retired educators and consultants.

Mitigating the challenge challenges of STEM jobs and dearth of professionals 

The mission of STEM Bridge is to empower, support, and encourage girls from developing countries interested in STEM and inspire the next generation of female leaders. There are identified ways of doing this including; Role-Model Approach: To mentor girls to inspire, build confidence, shape their future and provide them with the skills they need to succeed. The mentorship programs pair high school girls with like-minded women who have similar interest and goals. That’s why the first outreach brought Mrs Owen Omogiafo , CEO of Transcorp , Mrs Uzo Oshogwe, CEO of Afriland Properties Plc and a lot of young female STEM and Creative professionals to share their educational and career experiences with the girls. Community-Building Approach:  Invest in the girls’, by increasing access to high quality education and equal opportunities to study, grow, and thrive in STEM careers. For example, the awareness events brought communities, schools, universities and corporate leaders and women together.  Continuous-Learning Approach: Create learning resources, provide learning and growth opportunities through programs designed to pique interest, and expand the knowledge and ability of the girls. The  bootcamps, career panels and much more provide young girls with resources and opportunities to learn and grow. 

Why STEM BRIDGE not all encompassing but for girls 

This  is because a GAP still exists and STEM Bridge is trying to bridge that gap. Research shows that women who study STEM fields are less likely to enter into STEM careers and exit these careers earlier than male peers”. Again  early-stage interventions provide a good opportunity to get girls interested in STEM subjects that lead to a greater chance of achieving higher levels of academia, and bridging the gap in STEM. STEM Bridge exists for HER. As a matter of fact STEM girls need male folks as allies to help bridge that gap and empower HER in places of work, school and generally in life. This is not gratification but seeking a level playing field for HER.

Why a number of STEM women has reduced drastically due to gender bias, and strategies to ensure more young girls leverage on STEM Bridge for development and career success

The reason for the above  was due to systemic and conservative practices of old but the situation is changing gradually. In the past for example, in the Oil and Gas industry, people would expect the female engineer to be in design or project management but now we see them on platforms and rigs. Same for other fields like space exploration etc.  First there is need to build confidence early, equip them academically and technically, inspire and mentor them by creating opportunities for regular interactions with female STEM champions and leaders and then provide access to hands-on experience in the form of internship, research and job opportunities.  

How STEM is positioned to succeed in Nigeria 

The advent of STEM Bridge is the needed seed for its success, with the support of organizations, industry leaders – male and female, the schools and the parents, most of the young girls will be inspired to be part of the changing world of STEM. The goal is to do as much as can be done to provide access to these spaces for girls – especially young girls in Nigeria and subsequently other developing countries. There is an exciting future for  STEM Bridge and the future of our girls! *Okoronkwo  is the publisher/ceo of The New Narrative Newspaper

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