Woman scientist lights trail for girls

Dr Chao Mbogo, head of Computer Science Department, Kenya Methodist University and Programme Lead KamiLimu, was this year’s winner of the leadership award at the Zuri Awards 2018. She talks about her work

Tell  us more about yourself.

I was born in Mombasa, but grew up in Migori, after my parents moved due to work. I developed an interest in school activities and learning as a child, which I carried on to university. It is, perhaps this love for learning that made following a career in academics and research a natural path to follow.

What inspired you to pursue a career in Computer Science?

While growing up, I did not have access to computers except for the occasional visit to a cyber café. My first continuous interaction with computers was during the first year of an undergraduate degree at Kenya Methodist University (Kemu). Owing to my love for solving problems, I settled on a degree in Mathematics and Computer Science at Kemu, a year-and-half prior to being selected to pursue a degree in Food Science and Computer Science. Later on, I pursued Masters in Computer Science at Oxford University and a PhD at University of Cape Town.

When did you establish KamiLimu  programme?

The name ‘KamiLimu’ is derived from the Kiswahili words ‘elimu’, meaning education, and ‘Kamili’, which means complete or whole. It’s a programme started in 2016 to offer Computer Science University students training on innovation and professional growth through imparting skills on interview preparation, community engagement and scholarship awareness. The programme was motivated by the need to enhance skills of the students to become globally competitive. We run the programme with my co-founder, Krystal Musyoki who serves as the Mentorship Affairs director.

The impact of KamiLimu?

Since inception, 59 students from eight universities have undergone the six-month mentorship programme at KamiLimu. Most of the mentees significantly improve their skills in one of the four pillars tackled in the programme. So far, three of our female students have received international scholarships after the programme, three students have been absorbed into internship after the programme while most mentees return to serve as mentors. The programme has led to increased involvement in the tech field with various students earning promotions at their workplaces. Application for the next cohort was launched on March 3 last year.

Tell me more about challenging the barriers and perceptions about women in the STEM field.

There has been an increase in the number of women experts and innovators. Still the number is low compared to men. For instance, in all programming classes that I teach at the university, only 20 per cent are female. There is still a long way to go in ensuring that women are equally represented in the industry. More female mentors and role models are needed to encourage women and girls to venture into the field.

You have received several recognitions for your work. Tell me more about them.

The recognitions have been incredibly humbling, but also constant reminders that a lot is expected of me. In 2017 I was listed as one of the 30 Quartz Africa Innovators for my work in mobile learning, which has also inspired me to do more work in that area  this year.  I was also awarded the Pass-it-on award by Systers, which was a cash prize that contributed to the work at KamiLimu. In 2015, I was selected as a fellow of the Schlumberger Faculty for the Future award, which also contributed to the final part of my PhD. In 2014, I was selected as one of the 40 winners of Google Anita Borg (Now, Women Techmakers), which fuelled my passion for mentoring women in Computer Science and also giving back to the community.

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