DEVELOPING STEMPRENEURS TO BRIDGE THE GAP BETWEEN TOWN AND GOWN IN AN EMERGING ECONOMY By Prof. Toyin Ashiru, Managing Director/CEO Tricontinental Oil Services Ltd
It gives me great pleasure to be here today at this year’s conference of the Science Ambassadors Foundation. Most importantly because I started here about 35 years ago, as a lecturer at the Faculty of Engineering under the leadership of Late Prof Ayodele Awojobi, one of the finest mechanical engineers I have ever known with an entrepreneurial mindset. I am quite delighted also that this great institution has remained a vital part of national development, producing thousands of well-trained graduates every year. I am not surprised that a worthy course like the advancement of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education by the Science Ambassadors Foundation originates from the University of Lagos.
I feel highly honoured by your invitation as a guest speaker on the theme: Developing Stempreneurs to bridge the gap between town and gown in an emerging economy. As a professional, an entrepreneur, a parent, grandparent and a patriotic citizen of this nation, STEM is one area that I am very passionate about, and having the opportunity to speak at gatherings such as this translates my passion into a form of advocacy.
Let me start with my personal experience:
As a science student, I was fascinated about the scientific principles of electrochemistry, the movement of anion and cathion really aroused my curiosity. This translated into a passion which inspired me into developing major interests in electroplating and corrosion sciences. My quest to satisfy this passion led me to acquire the knowledge and skills that resulted in the invention of an electroplating process known as selective electrochemical metalizing, which is now used worldwide in high tech industries including the manufacturing of landing gear for aircraft. I have United States,
Japanese and International Patents for this invention through which I earn royalties till today. This modest effort from me is well appreciated internationally and is the basis for my recognition in the USA as a Professional with Extraordinary Ability, which earned me automatic USA citizenship. I did not receive any such recognition or appreciation in Nigeria.
In the words of the former US president, Barack Obama at the 2015 United States Science Fair:
“[Science] is more than a school subject, or the periodic table, or the properties of waves. It is an approach to the world, a critical way to understand and explore and engage with the world, and then have the capacity to change that world…”
From time immemorial, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics have been used by humans as tools for understanding and improving the world. Man has often sought new ways to ease living by interacting with nature to create products, systems or technologies that can help overcome challenges and obstacles. Through increased knowledge of natural science and mathematics, engineering and technology have evolved from mere survival strategies into complex and advanced systems, which is now the major catalyst for the development of any economy.
IMPORTANCE OF STEM EDUCATION
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics—STEM education are vital to our future, the future of our country and the future of our continent. STEM shapes our everyday experiences.
Science equips us with knowledge about our natural world— sun, moon and stars…lands and oceans…weather, natural disasters, the diversity of nature, animals, plants and food; the fuel that we use in our homes and powers transportation…the list is almost endless. In today’s world, technology covers computers and smartphones, but it goes back to television, radio, microscopes, telegraph, telescopes, the compass, and even the first wheel. Yes, engineering encompasses buildings, roads, and bridges, but it also tackles today’s challenges of transportation, global warming and environment-friendly machines, appliances and systems. When we look around us it is easy to see how our lives and our homes have been greatly improved by engineering in the last decade alone. Mathematics on the other hand, helps us achieve orderliness in our lives. Mathematics is the cradle of all creations, it boosts our power of reasoning and problem-solving skills. Every other STEM field depends on mathematics.
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics affect what is closest and dearest to us as a nation. STEM careers develop professionals that build communities and transform nations. These professionals are in charge of solving the complex problems of today’s world and the future. They are working to find solutions for global warming, cancer, poverty, under development, and economic crisis. The old view of a nerd in a lab coat is not representative of today’s STEM teams. STEM careers today are getting more challenging but full of fun.
STEM AND NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
For our nation, investing in the future of science, technology, engineering and mathematics is a national priority. In fact, it is the only single sensible change we can bring to our educational sector. If Nigeria is to ever attain her vision of becoming top 20 world economy, then we just have to motivate our most promising students into the STEM fields, particularly at this phase of our national development. Everyday we wake up to so much inadequacies and challenges: power, water, healthcare, transportation, security, corruption and terrorism. These are common problems that we need an army of STEM professionals to urgently fix.
Because STEM is so important for our country and our continent, we need to encourage the students currently in our educational systems, as well as future generations of students, to understand the merits of taking as many Mathematics and science courses in secondary school as possible. And these courses need to be taught by engaged and enthusiastic teachers using hands-on and minds-on activities. Making science and mathematics courses fun and interesting will not only help students to learn, but might also plant the “seed of interest” that could grow into an exciting and rewarding STEM career.
Now let me pause here and ask a few questions:
- Can you list the top ten Nigerian musicians?
Comments after response: of course that is easy, because you can identify with them)
- Okay, can you identify any living Nigerian scientist?
Comments after response: Now, that is the problem!
Children, particularly the millennials, identify easily with entertainers, because they are celebrated and are seen as rich and successful. But grand efforts of scientists, engineers and other STEM professionals are behind the scene, even though they are the foundation for the success of the entertainers. Or how successful can a musician be without musical instruments, microphones, amplifiers, mixers, computers, radios, televisions? The interest is often not on the technologies behind movie production but on actors that are in its cast! The focus has been wrongly shifted from how things are made to how they are used.
What our youths have failed to understand is that entertainment creates a job, but STEM creates industries.
Pardon me to ask one more question…
Who among you know Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, The Wright Brothers, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg?
Do you know what they have in common besides being STEM professionals?
These inventors created enterprises and in some cases, industries.
- Thomas Edison’s inventions created an industry and a company (General Electric, over 100years old)
- The Wright Brother’s airplane invention created the air travel industry
- Henry Ford’s invention of automobiles created Ford Motors
- Bill Gates created the personal computer software industry and multibillion dollars Microsoft Corporations.
- Steve Job’s Apple introduced desktop computers into our offices and homes
- Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook from his hostel room and the social media industry is now one of the biggest employers of labour
As a matter of fact, amongst the top ten richest persons in the world, 7 are STEMPRENUERS, whose inventions created multibillion enterprises.
The question is -Why Not You, or maybe Why Can’t You?
You can change the world! It’s all about taking a problem and trying to solve it. Problems are everywhere: in your little room, your house, your street, your community, your state, your country and the world at large. Some of these problems are overwhelming and they put our existence at risk.
The world needs more students learning how to become problem solvers and tackle our most pressing challenges, making our society and our world a better place for generations to come, no matter what profession they choose. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the precipitate.
You have a role to play in the development of our nation, especially in this technology driven age where previously known approaches to construction, production, transportation, education, healthcare, etc are rapidly changing. Nigeria and indeed the world is in dire need of fresh ideas, large scale solutions, thinking in capacities unimaginable to further and sustain civilization.
Let me bring this home to you by giving you just three examples out of many Nigerians who have created big enterprises from STEM.
He developed the microchips used in Minimally Invasive Surgical Robots. Ndubuisi is the founder of First Atlantic Semiconductors & Microelectronics Ltd. He holds a U.S. Patent on a microchip used in Minimally Invasive Surgical Robots and was part of the team that created XL sensor inside the iPhone and iPad.
Kunle is a Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Stanford University. He received his Ph.D. in Computer Engineering from The University of Michigan. He is the founder of Afara Websystems, a company that builds an innovative CPU system for servers. This was later acquired by Sun Microsystems in a multi-million-dollar deal.
Mohammed Bah Abbah
Mohammed developed pot-in-pot refrigerator or “zeer”, a refrigerating device that does not use electricity, to people in rural areas. The invention allows perishable food to be preserved for a longer period.
By combining the knowledge he had gained from his grandmother’s craft of traditional pottery with simple laws of physics. He followed up on the idea by placing food in a small pot, which is then placed in a larger pot. The space between the two is filled with moist sand and a wet cloth cover is used to cover the whole set up. As the water in the moist sand evaporates through the larger pot, it carries heat away from the inner core of the whole set up which leads to cooling effect. This invention is now widely used in Nigeria.
When STEM education meets entrepreneurship, innovation happens. If Nigeria will ever develop from a consumer economy to a manufacturing economy, we need Stempreneurs who constantly seek to add value by creating industry solutions with commercial viability. We need Scientists, Technologists, Engineers and Mathematicians who will develop sellable ideas, build local industries and take part in the growth of the economy.
The country needs to harness the talents of our professionals by putting in place suitable policies that can encourage STEM innovations.
In my years of teaching, it is my practice to device an idiot-proof approach to any subject matter. For what is before us today, I’ll offer a simple solution by answering the ultimate question:
How do we develop Stemprenuers in one part and then how can they bridge the gap between town and gown in Nigeria’s emerging economy?
MY FIVE-PRONGED APPROACH – RINOC
- Recognize: let us recognize the importance of STEM. This is what Science Ambassadors Foundation is doing with all these lectures, conferences and publications. The least we can do as concerned citizens and organizations is to support them.
- Ignite: let us ignite the passion for STEM: parents need to start taking interest in STEM related news and events. You will be amazed at how much influence few minutes of science and technology documentaries can have over a child. Rather than watch Africa Magic or Big Brother all day, turn on Discovery Channel or National Geographic sometimes and watch your child’s interest light up.
- Notice: let us notice little innovations or even research efforts. Our kids do novel STEM stuff everyday but we don’t even notice. Reward them when they get through with Algebra, Geometry or Organic Chemistry. Make a ceremony when they show you their works in science practical. Schools, organizations and government should make it a habit to greatly reward innovations.
- Organize: let us organize our collective efforts at promoting STEM through policies, programs, events and shows. All stakeholders should make deliberate effort towards reaching our goals for STEM. The government should lead the pack with planning, monitoring and reviews. Educators and parents should keep tab with the developments and students should take advantage of the opportunities that will be created.
- Celebrate: let us celebrate our progress as we go. Let us celebrate The focus of our children is on celebrities. They are influenced everyday by winners of TV reality shows like Nigerian Idol, MTN Project Fame, Guilder Ultimate Search, and more recently Big Brother Naija. How about creating new set of celebrities? How about having the National Mathematics Kings & Queens with N15million grand prize? What about a National Science Reality Show aired on all national television with weekly headlines on national dailies? STEM deserve to be celebrated. We need to make a big deal out of little efforts of our children, graduates, researchers and professionals. By so doing we can create many STEM celebrities that children can look up to. I can remember some 20years ago, nobody wanted their child to become a musician, a comedian, a footballer or a pastor. But now these professions are so celebrated so much so that parents now model their children towards that path. Let’s do same to STEM.
If we keep recognizing the need, igniting the passion, noticing attempts, organizing effort, and celebrating progress, the natural result will be the creation of lots of STEM enterprises that will not only change the course of our economy but make Nigeria a competitive global player.
Thank you for listening, God bless you all!
Prof. Toyin Ashiru.