Miss. Deborah Dormah Kanubala is currently an MSc. Student at the African Masters of Machine Intelligence (AMMI). She developed her passion for mathematics after an interesting class in Algebraic expression at the Junior High School. Spared on by this, she proceeded to pursue mathematics at the Senior High School and subsequently enrolled in the University for Development Studies in Ghana where she obtained a degree in Financial Mathematics. Having distinguished herself with her performance during her undergraduate studies, together with her acquired interest in using mathematics to change the world, she enrolled in the African Institute for Mathematical Science (AIMS)- Senegal, where she completed in February, 2019 with an MSc. in Mathematical Science.
Ms. Kanubala is a MasterCard Foundation Alumnus and she has participated in several international conferences including The Next Einstein Forum in Kigali, Rwanda, the 6th Heidelberg Laureate Forum in Heidelberg, Germany and the International Congress on Industrial and Applied Mathematics in Valencia, Spain among others. As a young researcher who grew up in the northern part of Ghana, Deborah has an uttermost desire in promoting STEM education especially in Ghana and Africa. To this end, she recently won a research grant from the MasterCard Foundation to conduct a study on increasing women in STEM transition into tertiary education. This research is currently ongoing in Ghana and Uganda. Miss. Kanubala is the team leader for this project. Additionally, she led another team to obtain funding from Alumnode to organize a conference for senior high school students in her home region in northern Ghana. Miss. Kanubala is a co-founder of the nonprofit organization- Women Promoting Science to the Younger Generation. The Ghana and Senegal based organization seeks to promote science to the future generations.
In line with her drive to promote STEM, she is mentoring students at all levels and was one of the mentors for the renowned National Science and Mathematics Quiz (NSMQ) in Ghana. In addition, to her bid in democratizing AI for everyone, she is currently sharing introductory lessons on machine learning through her youtube channel:Youtube_Kanubala . In recognition of her efforts, Ms. Kanubala was voted among the top 20 most influential STEM personalities in northern Ghana in the year 2019. She believes the key to the development of the African continent lies in the insights that can be gained from the enormous data generated on the continent.
Why did you get into STEM?
I come from the northern part of Ghana – a region that continues to lag behind the rest of the country and the world in general in terms of education and STEM in particular. This situation has become a plague which is impeding development in the area, therefore further marginalizing an area which is already poor and underdeveloped. Women and girls in particular remain isolated down the ladder of education as most families faced with the choice would rather opt to educate boys rather than girls. In the instance where girls get the opportunity to have an education, they are rather encouraged to pursue other non-STEM programs. For some reason, there seems to be a myth that mathematics and physical science is preserved for boys.
For a long time, I, like most people, fell victim to this flawed mindset until I took a course in algebra at the Junior High School. After this course, the widely held myth was broken to me but not to other girls in my area. At the early stages of my development, I came to a realization that the human well-being is driven by progress in the field of Mathematics and Science. Nonetheless, in most developing countries especially in Ghana, and the Northern part in particular, few people pursue this field at all sectors in the educational spectrum. My journey in STEM is therefore influenced largely by my background and a general determination not just to attain my person professional development of being and influential professional in the field but also to generate grassroot momentum in STEM ultimately leading to the overall progression of my locality and Africa in general. I am particularly keen on girls and women development as I believe that their development will result in the holistic development of society and humanity.
What do you consider your greatest achievements?
In my professional development, I have taken numerous bold steps aimed at advancing professional competence. Some of these include selection among only 200 young researchers globally to attend the 6th Heidelberg Laureate Forum in Germany, being a mentor for the National Science and Mathematics quiz competition in Accra, and giving presentations in international seminars including the International Congress on Industrial and Applied Mathematics in Valencia, Spain and a giving a spotlight presentation at Deep learning Indaba, Kenya etc. Nonetheless, my most significant academic achievement so far was winning a research grant from the MasterCard Foundation to conduct an international research on increasing women in Science, Technology, and Mathematics (STEM) transition into tertiary education. This research which is led by me is currently being conducted by two research teams in Ghana and Uganda. The research grant was obtained as part of a global research sanctioned by the MasterCard Foundation to get its scholars more involved with the activities of the foundation and find innovative ways in reaching out more to the deprived and vulnerable populations in the award of scholarships.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEM and how did you overcome them?
Whereas much progress has been made over the years in attaining gender parity in society. It is still very much disheartening that in this day and age, women like me still have to undergo the age-old gender stereotyping that generations before me faced. It is particularly troubling that my feminine features and appearance still prefix my academic and professional progress when I am being complemented by the opposite sex. It is very demoralizing to me that my professional achievements are complemented with comments such as “beautiful lady” and “nice looks”, etc. rather than my intellectual capability. This viewpoint surprisingly is transmitted to how my professional delivery is received. It is my hope that in my lifetime, scientists and mathematicians will be celebrated for their intellect and not their looks.
What is your advice to budding women in STEM?
STEM is quite a challenging but equally exciting and rewarding field. To excel in it, one needs an equal degree of passion and determination. I would therefore advice my fellow women in STEM to stick to the things that truly interest them and to never give up in the pursuit of STEM. I would also edge women in STEM to constantly avail themselves for consideration whenever and wherever there is a nomination or position out there to be competed for. Always bear in mind that even though there is a chance that your application could be rejected, there is also a chance that it would be accepted. I am always encouraged by the belief that even though people will reject your application, they will never reject your success.