A self-described risk-taker, Ibukunoluwa Aribilola is a Volunteer Progression Tutor at the African Science Academy (ASA) who is committed to motivating African girls to pursue careers in STEM. She has spent the last 4 months of her gap year before university supporting the new cohort academically and mentally through the much familiar process of completing Cambridge International A-levels in a year. She also organises guest speaker series at ASA- inviting people who inspire the students. She hopes to study Biomedical Engineering and use her skills to research into less-invasive and cheaper diagnostic methods for Nigeria and the world at large. In an effort to achieve her goal, she shadowed Dr. Elsie Kaufmann, a senior lecturer of Biomedical Engineering at The University of Ghana, for a day and interned at 37 Military Hospital to gain experience in various career prospects in Biomedical Engineering. Ibukun took an unconventional path and moved from Nigeria to Ghana to complete an A-level programme in Math, Further Math and Physics. As the first ever Head Girl and only Nigerian of her cohort, Ibukun had several opportunities to express her passion. She represented ASA at the African Women in Tech conference. She was also one of 4 students selected to go on a fully funded trip to the UK where she did a BBC radio interview and spoke at a breakfast event organised in the home of the Lord Mayor of London. Through hard work and teamwork, Ibukun had an excellent A-level result- A*s in Math and Further Math and A in Physics- making her receive awards as the Best Further Math and Math student in Ghana. Ibukunoluwa has developed a unique perspective when it comes to STEM education. Fueled by her desire to influence great changes in Africa, she aspires to keep working hard to stand out and inspire girls to pursue their dreams in the next stage of her career.
Why did you get into STEM?
My interest in STEM dates as far back as Primary School. Although my parents are not scientists, they always bought books from different disciplines and created an environment for me to develop my passion for STEM. Selecting my subjects in Senior High School was so easy because I was so fascinated with anything to do with STEM at the time. I loved the feeling of euphoria after spending hours trying to solve a math question and the idea that all the answers to my questions about why certain things happen could be answered by science.
What do you consider your greatest achievements?
I got the top Further Math and Math CIE A-level scores in Ghana. I am particularly proud of this achievement because I completed my A-levels in only 10 months instead of the regular 2 years. Winning the awards created a platform for me to provide guidance and motivation to other students who are yet to take their A-level exams. I know that I made my teachers, parents and, colleagues very proud as it was a team effort that made me achieve this feat. Furthermore, I was asked by ASA to volunteer during my gap year because I was the best graduating student of my year. It is a satisfying period of my life because not only do I teach Math and Physics, I also organize SAT tutorials and teach the students helpful tech tips weekly to keep them well versed with the world of computers. In all, I am extremely grateful and humbled that I have been able to achieve such great feats that I would even be nominated as STEM WOW to inspire younger girls to go into STEM.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEM and how did you overcome them?
In the first few weeks of moving to Ghana for my A-levels, I was a bit skeptical about what would be the outcome of my year. Only a few people back home understood why I decided to do A-levels in Ghana instead of going to university in Nigeria like everyone else, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Their words got to me and I started to doubt myself and the possibility of ASA being a good opportunity, especially because it was a brand new school. I was able to overcome this challenge by telling myself that I had a purpose in ASA and I cannot give anyone the power to make me deviate from my purpose. I decided to put in my best and excel to make myself proud and to prove to the skeptical people that I made the right decision.
Additionally, although I always loved science and math, I believed that Engineering was sacred territory for girls and there was no way on earth that I would be able to study engineering. It was not until after Senior High School that I finally realised that I can be whoever I want to be, that my dreams are not dependent on my gender. Now, I feel so comfortable doing an internship in a male-dominated environment.
What is your advice to budding women in STEM?
- Make good use of every opportunity you have to develop your interest in STEM. Whatever you do, put in your best so that you can stand out.
- Reach out to women who have reached greater heights in STEM. This is very important as they will help guide you through challenges that you might face and inspire you to be a better version of yourself. This is very easy as many women in STEM want to see more women in their fields so they would be happy to mentor.
- Identify your strengths, weaknesses, and goals- in what way do you hope to contribute to your community? I think this is very important because we have different journeys and the only way of discovering yours is to know who you are and what your goals are. You also need to believe in yourself through your journey; self-motivation is key.
- Be inquisitive. Ask questions- Why? How? When? What? Constantly acquiring knowledge helps shape you as an individual and boosts confidence.