Theodora comes from Douala, the economic capital of Cameroon. She is a trained Environmental Engineer from ENSAI Ngaoundere, and worked for about two years in Industrial Processing and Environmental management sectors. After her last position as a R&D Engineer, she resumed school at Ecole Mines Nantes under the MOPGA (Make Our Planet Great Again) initiative by the French President Emmanuel Macron, and obtained a Master’s Degree in Project Management for Environmental and Energy Engineering.
She also participated in International Conferences and programs: The Pan-African Youth Forum in Chad, the African Youth Networks Summit in South Africa, the World Festival of Youth and Students in Russia, where she was a panelist during the Conference on the topic: Capitalist Exploitation of Natural Resources and Destruction of the Environment. Theodora is a 2018 Fellow of the Techwomen professional exchange program, an initiative by the U.S. Department of State, during which she undertook a 5-week intensive mentoring at Pacific Gas and Electric PG&E, a public utility company in charge of the generation, transmission, and delivery of energy from renewable and non-renewable sources, in San Francisco, state of California, USA.
Theodora is one of the 20 women selected for the African Young Women Leader Fellowship, a joint initiative by the African Union Commission (AUC) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in an effort to address Gender Equality, and accelerate the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals. She is stationed at UNDP office São Tomé-et-Príncipe where she provides support to ongoing programs in areas of SDGs policy support, as well as Energy/Environmental projects.
Why did you get into STEM?
In the course of my studies at the primary level, I developed a love for science subjects, and was even doing better in science courses such as biology, chemistry, mathematics. I had always wanted to be a medical doctor, but my dream was shattered when I couldn’t get into medical school. I then took up the biochemistry course at the undergraduate level given that I had no other choice. It was only after graduating school that I decided I wanted to venture into the engineering field, mostly because of the practical aspects of the field, and because I had advice from elders already in the field. I took up the engineering program at the postgraduate level and it was in the course of my studies and industrial placements, that I developed more interest and love for the industrial processing sector, and STEM as a whole. I was exposed to a lot of practical aspects, which made it easier to understand. I focused on industrial chemistry and environmental engineering because I was curious to find out about how environmental management is associated with the industrial sector.
Afterwards, my work experiences in the field, made me realize the challenges faced by my country (Cameroon in particular) and several countries on the African continent, as far as access to clean energy is concerned. This spurred my interest in providing adequate responses to the challenges of the ever-growing energy demand of our society, which puts enormous pressure on our natural resources, renewable and non-renewable. It is in that light that I applied and was selected for the MOPGA scholarship to learn about the energy sector, and renewable energy integration into the national grids.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement has been to serve as a mentor for primary school students, helping them in their academic orientation. As a matter of fact, many people take up courses not knowing whether it will serve them in the future or not. As an example, I will talk about my case: I had always wanted to be a medical doctor, but I had no idea which of the courses were important for a career in the medical field. I dropped physics before high school level, just because I wasn’t doing well in the course. It was only after I graduated from high school, and was about to write the competitive examination to a medicine school, that I was told it was not going to be possible because I did not have physics as one of my passed subjects. I wish I had known, but no one warned me before, and it was already too late. I had to reorient my career objective.
So I made it a point that I wouldn’t let that happen to younger ones around me. I decided to volunteer with NGOs in my community in order to share my experience with as many people as possible, and also mentor them to achieve their objectives. I always take delight whenever I get thank you messages from parents or siblings, for contributing to the academic orientation of a child.
Also, being the only scholar from Cameroon, for the 1st edition of the MOPGA program, is definitely another of my greatest achievements at the personal level.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEM and how did you overcome them?
As a woman in STEM, challenges always arise. whether it is being the only woman in a work unit and having to work twice harder to prove your worth, or being in a classroom made up of 90% men. However, the most important challenge has been to believe in myself and never to doubt my capabilities. In many instances, I found myself in the midst of people from diverse origins, older age groups, and people with several years of work experience. Being in a team with such people was quite challenging as I doubted my ability to contribute or to be fully integrated in the team.
Taking up personal development courses during the regional YALI program was very helpful in overcoming this perception. Even after the program, I kept on taking online courses on personal development and self leadership. I had a friend who became my role model, as he inspired me to come out of my comfort zone, and give myself the tools needed to excel in this life.
What is your advice to budding women in STEM?
My advice to young women with a similar passion in solving problems and using technology in finding solutions is: never lose focus on your dreams and aspirations, we women have everything it takes to get it done. You can do it!!!
Fear shouldn’t stop you from believing in your capabilities. Yes, you can do it, even if no one in your family or surrounding has done it before you. It is not bad to want to stand out of the crowd. Set your goals, identify the tools and network you need to meet your objectives, get help and support wherever needed (including scholarship, free MOOC courses, etc.), learn from your mistakes, and you will get to the end, no matter how long it takes.