Demilade Fayemiwo

Educator and Science Research Lead

African Leadership Academy

Researcher

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Be curious. Curiosity is the foundation of creativity and STEM requires creativity. There is so much to discover and so much to change.

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WHAT DO YOU DO?

I currently work at African Leadership Academy (ALA) where I lead the science research program and teach the students Biology. The academy is unique in the sense that students are admitted from all over Africa and are educated through a two-year diploma program that inculcates them with leadership skills, a sense of identity and an understanding of challenges faced on the continent. As a result, my biology class does not simply seek to teach students the rudimentary knowledge of the course but helps them understand how it relates to everyday life, and how their understanding of concepts can be used to address pressing challenges on the African continent. For example, when we discuss infectious diseases like cholera, tuberculosis, HIV and malaria, my students are not limited to simply understanding the modes of transmission of these diseases but are also drawn into discussions that help them understand how issues of development, policy and infrastructure affect responses to the outbreak of diseases on the African continent. The students in my class are also tasked with interesting innovative research projects such as drawing links between biology and the sustainable development goals, suggesting viable solutions to some of the pressing developmental problems such as lack of access to clean water and sanitation, healthcare access and food shortages on the continent. This ties in with my role as the science research coordinator at the academy. Students who take the science research class are introduced to the basics of conducting research and are able to select a topic of interest where they explore different themes such as water quality research, bio-energy options and remediation of pollutants from the environment. With my expertise, I mentor a group of three to four students in the class ever year. I have had students come up with very interesting projects, such as the kinds of homes we can build on mars that would save space and foster human connectivity. The variety of ideas means that scientific research at the academy is never boring.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?

I often find it hard to describe a time when I decided to become a scientist. It is more factual to say I was raised to be a scientist by my father. He is a retired engineer and was very influential in my choice to pursue science. As a young girl, he gave me a few books from his library that I like to call the 'Teach Yourself' series. I call them so because they were titled 'Teach Yourself Electricity', 'Teach Yourself Calculus' etc. He would often quiz me on my understanding of scientific concepts and correct me whenever I was wrong. In that way, I found myself gravitating towards science and could not imagine doing anything else. As a result, I chose science subjects in high school and put my best effort into excelling in them. I studied Microbiology at my undergraduate level because I was fascinated by these little organisms that cannot be seen by the naked eye. With time, I became interested in how these organisms can be applied to address the problems of environmental pollution. This led me to a Masters in Environmental Technology and eventually a PhD in Chemical Engineering. My choices of these courses were based on the interests I developed as my scientific knowledge grew.

HOW DO/DID YOU TACKLE OBSTACLES?

Being a scientist, obstacles are a very common occurrence. If you are not facing obstacles in breaking through with a scientific solution, you may find yourself constricted by resources. My first step when I am faced with an obstacle is to determine the degree of its impact on my work. I have found that some obstacles still leave room for other aspects of one’s work to continue while others put a complete stop to everything. If it is the former, I continue to do whatever can be done in spite of the obstacle while I think of a solution. If it is the latter, I immediately go into brainstorming mode, working to find alternative routes to arrive at the desired outcome or adapting the desired outcome to fit the reality.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"

I wish younger me knew that there would come a time when technology would drive many of our decisions and behaviours. I don't know if it would have steered me in a different direction but there is a part of me that is deeply fascinated by how everything we do these days is technology-driven. I am also eager to see how this plays out in future.

WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?

The creativity that it allows a person to hone is unmatched. Working in science has made me an out-of-the-box thinker in so many ways. I love that during discussions with my science research advisees, there are many ideas that play into our conversation, ranging from how to collect data to how to present them as edible information to a lay audience. STEM has also made me a critical thinker and a person who pays attention to detail- skills that are well valued even in professions outside the STEM sector.

BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?

Be curious. Curiosity is the foundation of creativity and STEM requires creativity. There is so much to discover and so much to change. Ask questions and seek to understand. STEM subjects sometimes seem abstract because you might find yourself asking how they relate to reality. That's where your curiosity comes into play. Find out how they relate. Find the anecdotes; discover the principles, question how things are done and understand why. These are the best traits any scientist, male or female can develop.

INSPIRATION

"You're off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way" - Dr Seuss

Get on your way ladies. You have what it takes.

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