Mount Kenya University (MKU) is a leading higher education institution with a strong bias for science programmes. Now, through partnerships with global institutions, it is strengthening the training of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). DR NANCY CHESETO, a lecturer in the Department of Educational Psychology, is a beneficiary of mentorship by TechWomen, an initiative of the United States’ Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. In this interview, she highlights a visit by a TechWomen delegation to the university in February and argues why Africa needs to train more women scientists.
Q: Please introduce yourself and explain what you do at Mount Kenya University.
Dr Cheseto: I am Dr. Nancy Cheseto, a lecturer in the Department of Educational Psychology. I am a PhD holder in Educational Psychology from Kenyatta University, and received post-doctorate training in Innovation and Entrepreneurship from Entrepreneur Development Institute of India, Ahmedabad. I am also trained in Intellectual Property Protection from South Africa and the United States of America (USA).
The TechWomen programme under which I trained in the USA is an initiative of the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
I have also attended and presented papers in numerous international conferences including in Israel, Geneva, Switzerland, USA, India, South Africa, Ghana, and Somaliland among other countries.
- How did you come to be selected for the US TechWomen programme?
Dr Cheseto: The selection was very competitive. My expertise in Innovation and Intellectual Property Protection was key. My knowledge in psychology came in handy on issues of social innovation. I also had a very strong point on Community Service, which USA values a lot. I am also a widely published scholar. This is a Global Award, and I got to visit the White House and the US State Department to make presentations.
I also visited Global Tech Giants, including, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, among others.
- What did the programme entail?
Dr Cheseto: TechWomen empowers, connects and supports the next generation of women leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) from Africa, Central and South Asia and the Middle East by providing them the access and opportunity needed to advance their careers, pursue their dreams, and inspire women and girls in their communities.
The foundation of the TechWomen programme is the four-week professional mentorship at a company, organisation or institution in the San Francisco Bay Area or Silicon Valley. During the mentorship, strong bonds are formed that inspire a rich exchange of ideas and expertise. Prior to arriving in the United States, each Emerging Leader and her Professional Mentor design a collaborative project based on the Emerging Leader’s professional goals. Four days per week, for four weeks, the Emerging Leader and Mentor work together on the project at the Mentor’s company. Projects vary depending on each Emerging Leader’s areas of expertise and interests, as well as on the needs of the host company.
- What did you learn from the programme? Did it help make you a better professional?
Dr Cheseto: I was based at Juniper Networks, a large USA company. I was in the Legal Department. I was mentored on Intellectual Property Protection by Meredith McKenzie, a world renowned expert on Intellectual Property Protection.
- How are you using the knowledge you gained from the programme?
Dr Cheseto: I am using the knowledge by sensitising fellow MKU staff on various intellectual property issues, especially pertaining to academic research and publications. I also advise young innovators on how to protect their innovations.
- How much of a positive impact did the programme have on you?
Dr Cheseto: As a complement to the professional development programme, each participant has the opportunity to get to know Cultural Mentors to ease the transition of working and living in a new country and explore the Bay Area together. Cultural Mentors serve as ambassadors and expose participants to local attractions, special events, community service opportunities and cultural experiences.
This also gave me an opportunity to showcase Kenyan Culture.
Most importantly, the programme emphasised the value of giving back to community. We have to improve the lives of people around us. Community Service is a key pillar of MKU.
- Do you believe it is necessary to encourage African women to take up STEM courses?
Dr Cheseto: The disparity between African men and women who are taking up STEM courses is huge. More women need to take up STEM courses to bridge this gap. This is good for development in the continent.
- Do you have evidence that having more African women in STEM will positively influence development in the continent? How?
Dr Cheseto: Through mentorship and exchange, TechWomen strengthens professional capacity, increases mutual understanding between key networks of professionals, and expands girls’ interest in STEM careers by exposing them to female role models. This will lower the need for African countries to hire expatriates to do jobs that can be done by Africans. This will definitely affect the GDP.
- How well has MKU performed in encouraging women to participate in STEM fields?
Dr Cheseto: MKU is doing well. We have several STEM female lecturers who are role models to the girls. The top most female administrator, deputy vice-chancellor academic and research affairs (DVC ARA), Dr Bibianne Waiganjo, is also a STEM professional and therefore leads by example and strongly supports STEM academic initiatives in the University. Our Chancellor, Prof. Victoria Wulsin, is also in STEM.
- Any other comment?
Dr Cheseto: MKU was privileged to have been selected from the many Kenyan universities and visited by a high powered delegation of over 15 ladies from the USA and other African countries visited MKU on 8th February 2017 under the banner of TechWomen. The delegation only visited two universities in Kenya: MKU and USIU.
MKU has already established professional networks with these mentors. The high powered delegation held meetings with women faculty at MKU who are in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). They met with the Vice Chancellor and mentored closes to 800 female students enrolled in STEM areas of study.
Some, especially those in software engineering, have already expressed interest in coming to MKU for a short exchange programme.
The delegation donated several STEM books and flash disks to MKU.