Kaosi Anyanwu is Nigerian-American Software Engineer based in the United States of America (USA). She is the Founder and CEO of STEM Bridge Incorporated, an NGO with a mission 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. As software engineer, Kaosi is currently building the cloud at Microsoft using machine learning and other artificial intelligence concepts.
She is also a real estate investor, private Maths tutor, career coach and counselor.
She was in Nigeria recently for various activities to kickstart STEM operations in Nigeria. In this interview, she bares her mind on several STEM operations in Nigeria and many more. Excerpts:
What is STEM, and why is it important?
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. I would like to talk about this in relation to STEM education which 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.
How long has STEM Bridge been in existence in Nigeria? Any data as to your impact so far in terms of mentorship programme, acceptance and participation, how many STEM girls do you have?
STEM Bridge is fairly new! Although I have been working with the younger generation individually and mentoring young girls. STEM Bridge came to fruition early in 2022. Our impact so far has been impressive going by the giant strides recorded by our two programmes in December, 2022. We have over 100 girls currently in our pipeline and even more are interested in participating in our programmes and bootcamps. We have provided girls with STEM opportunities and provided them with access to universities as well as leadership and volunteer opportunities. We have also exposed them to accomplished female leaders to drink from their fountain of knowledge, also 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. Our goal is to produce well rounded girls, by focusing on the leadership and volunteer skills of our girls in addition to the academic and curricula component.
What career and professional paths are available for STEM majors?
There are a lot. 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. Then we have the medical fields of medicine, pharmacy, dentistry etc, and now, with data playing a huge part in the world, we have 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.
You recently concluded a STEM interactive awareness event in Lagos, what was the purpose of the event and how often should will be looking out for such an event in the future?
Yes, I did, we called it – An Afternoon with STEM Bridge. This event was an opportunity for students to interact with diverse and accomplished female corporate leaders, be exposed to a wide variety of STEM programmes and careers, participate in enrichment activities, and learn about the organization. Lead discussants at our 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 we 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 programmes.
Students also got the chance to play games such as Trivia and Jenga! Our side attraction was our raffle draw event where winners went home with STEM Bridge tote bags and an Amazon Echo dot!
It was a fun-filled learning experience. I believe everyone went home that day with a piece of knowledge and inspiration including myself. We plan to have more of these awareness events that will take different shapes and forms. This year, the theme was “Female Empowerment and Leadership”, next year we are looking at having a theme geared more towards innovation and disruption.
There was also the Annual Charity Event by STEM Bridge recently, what was it all about. Was it a different event?
Yes. This is an entirely different event. Our annual Charity event is something we plan to have every year during the Christmas period. Our target audience is young girls who otherwise would not have the chance to be exposed to such opportunities. This year, our 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. We had 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 we saw in these girls was amazing. You could tell that they wanted to be here, in this space. We were glad that we could bring this space to them. The charity event was held at a public secondary school in Lagos because of our 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.
You are a STEM advocate; hence you are promoting STEM among girls, what is your personal experience like, how has being a STEM major assisted you to realize your career goals?
My motivation is to demystify STEM. 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 the theories build on each other. I want to inspire girls to conquer that fear because I speak from my experience having had the same challenge as they. In primary school and high school, my teachers and lesson teachers encouraged me in Mathematics. I was very good. In fact, my mum would tell me at primary school level, I used to help my younger brothers with their homework. I took advanced level Mathematics i.e. Further Mathematics in high school and I ended up tutoring that for a few months after I graduated from high school. It was a no-brainer when I had to decide on what course to take in the university even though I was also very good in the creative subjects – I’m a really great artist and I draw and paint as a hobby. I knew I wanted to study something technical.
Because of my strong STEM foundation, I have a first degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Aerospace Engineering with a Minor in Computational Science. I started my career as a Software Engineer at Raytheon Missile and Defense in the USA before moving to Microsoft as a Software Engineer in Redmond, Washington State, their HQ. I’ve been tutoring mathematics privately for almost four years now. I founded STEM Bridge to create awareness and provide access to STEM opportunities to as many young ladies as possible and also instill leadership qualities in them.
Funding for our programmes have been from my savings with support from fundraisings I have raised through Microsoft Fundraising opportunities- I submitted one of my arts for a competition that was held in an attempt to fundraise for the organization. I am hoping to be able to raise more funds on a much larger scale through donations from companies and individuals.
One of the identified areas to promote STEM girls in Nigeria is through scholarship programme for women what is required generally?
Yes. 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. We have a STEM Bridge women scholarship that will open up in January, 2023 made specifically for these girls. This will be our pilot programme. We created this programme to recognize and empower high-achieving girls who otherwise would not have an opportunity to receive a high-quality education. The scholarship programme focuses on girls who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, who show strong academic performance, and who demonstrate a passion for STEM. We are 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 per cent 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.
One of the challenges of most STEM jobs are that they are in high demand while qualified people are very few, how do you intend to help mitigate this challenge?
Our mission is to empower, support, and encourage girls from developing countries interested in STEM and inspire the next generation of female leaders.
We have identified three ways to do this. We follow: one, Role-Model Approach: We mentor our girls to inspire, build confidence, shape their future and provide them with the skills they need to succeed. Our mentorship programmes pair high school girls with like-minded women who have similar interest and goals. That’s why our 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; two, Community-Building Approach: We invest in our girls’, by increasing access to high quality education and equal opportunities to study, grow, and thrive in STEM careers. For example, our awareness events bring communities, schools, universities and corporate leaders and women together; three, Continuous-Learning Approach: We create learning resources, provide learning and growth opportunities through programmes designed to pique interest, and expand the knowledge and ability of our girls. Our bootcamps, career panels and much more provide young girls with resources and opportunities to learn and grow.
Why is STEM Bridge not all encompassing, why girls, is it because you are one?
Interesting question. It is because a gap still exists and we are trying to bridge that gap. I read an article the other day that stated, “women who study STEM fields are less likely to enter into STEM careers and exit these careers earlier than male peers”. Research shows that 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 we need male folks as allies to help us bridge that gap and empower her in places of work, school and generally in life. This is not gratification, but we seek a level playing field for her.
There is also this notion that the number of STEM women has reduced drastically due to gender bias, what are your strategies to ensure more young girls leverage on this platform for development and career success?
It 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 we 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.
What is your last take on what needs to be done to ensure the success of STEM in Nigeria?
I believe we have sown the seed, with the support of organisations like yours, industry leaders – male and female, the schools and the parents, we will inspire a lot of our girls to be part of the changing world of STEM. My goal here is to do as much as I can to provide access to these spaces for girls – especially young girls in Nigeria and subsequently other developing countries. I’m really excited for the future of STEM Bridge and the future of our girls. (SUN)