Computer Literacy presents the opportunity for women and girls to empower themselves and their communities by allowing them to create and immerse themselves in spaces that encourage innovation and development. It is true that when you educate a girl, you educate a village, and our STEMINIST, Dr. Neema Mduma proves this to be undeniably true.
Dr, Neema Mduma is a computer scientist and lecturer at the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology who holds a Ph.D. in Information and Communication Sciences and Engineering.
She believes that using technology to solve challenges that we face as a society daily is crucial because most of them can be addressed through computers. For instance; among many other things, computers can be trained to correctly and more accurately diagnose diseases as well as suggest effective treatments.
Tech For Social Good
Part of Dr. Mduma’s career requires her to use data to address different needs in society. This is why during her Ph.D., she developed a machine learning model called “BakiShule” aiming to prevent students from dropping out of school. It identifies truants or dropouts, helping teachers and parents to intervene early and rescue them from quitting school. In this way, she was able to integrate her passion for STEMINISM with her scientific career. Today, the machine learning model has over 2000 active users and has managed to reduce student dropout levels to 8 percent.
In addition to this, she has been actively involved in initiatives aiming to increase the involvement of girls in science, including providing free training and workshops that expose girls to careers in tech. It is, therefore, to no surprise that Dr. Mduma has achieved a lot of recognition and appreciation for her exceptional work. Her most recent award (received in 2020) is the L’Oréal-UNESCO award for Women in Science as 20 Young Talents in Sub-Saharan Africa (2020). Equally, she has been invited to scientific gatherings such as the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing (October 2017) and Data Science Africa (2019).
Falling but Always Rising
However, she did not get this far simply by being a talented scientist from a young age. To get to where she is today, she had to face gender bias and discouragement from friends throughout her journey. But; driven by hard work, perseverance, her observation that the world is rapidly advancing through the help of science and technology, and the inspiration that came from seeing women succeed in STEM, she pushed day by day and became the stellar STEMINIST she is today.
“Following in the footsteps of other women who excel well in science will help to build confidence and believe that it can be done. My take is you can do better in anything as long as you put your heart and mind into it,” said Dr. Mduma.
Moreover; as a lecturer and researcher, many people expect her to have the answers to everything. This can be a good thing because it pushes her to constantly seek knowledge and think up innovative ideas by working with other researchers and interacting with more information. However, this can get quite overwhelming for her at times; so to unwind, she mostly likes to go for walks or take a nap.
To build confidence and see how science is applied outside of the classroom, Dr. Mduma recommends that girls engage themselves in more scientific events such as exhibitions, conferences, debates, etc. She also believes that the key to encouraging more Tanzanian girls to pursue careers in STEM is to expose them to successful women in the field so that they can see that it can be done.
Finally, she would like to encourage young Tanzanian STEMINISTS to “work hard and stay focused”. She says that “Science is not as hard as everyone thinks. But it takes hard work, discipline, commitment and focus to be a good scientist.”