One of her professors described her work as ‘the most exciting piece of outreach work he has encountered’
A Ph.D. student in Nottingham has been recognized for founding a project that aims to “break stereotypes” preventing Nigerian schoolgirls from furthering their education.
Doreen Anene, who is 29 and a student at the University of Nottingham, founded STEM Belle in April 2017 after she realized only a small number of Nigerian girls carry on their education in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM).
She believes that strong gender stereotypes in northern Nigeria – where Doreen is originally from – mean concerns about how education can prevent females from getting married or having children obstruct their academic success.
The project has seen Doreen frequently visit Nigerian schools and organize boot camps where women from the industry interact with pupils to inspire them.
She was recently awarded a Nature Research Award for Inspiring Science and Innovating Science, in partnership with The Estée Lauder Companies, with a prize of $25,200 (£19,214).
Doreen, who is studying for a Ph.D. at the University of Nottingham in poultry health and productivity, said: “In northern Nigeria, there are strong gender stereotypes about what women can and can’t do and how it can affect them.
“It made me think about how these are being passed down generations and how we can ever achieve equality.
“I wanted to close this gap, especially when only about 3 percent of girls in the area stay in STEM fields after school. ‘Belle’ means beautiful girl, so we are telling them that they can be this, as well as having an education in STEM subjects.”
Doreen’s team has targeted girls who are in government-owned schools in Nigeria that are under-resourced, to make them aware of the diverse subjects on offer in STEM.
She added: “We get women in these fields to come into the schools so the girls there can ask questions and interact with them. We want them to gain inspiration through this.
“We also offer mentoring sessions and reward girls who have performed well during a term by having their fees for the term paid for. We aim to encourage them to keep on studying and increase their interest in STEM.
“We work with girls when they are around 8 to 14 years old so we can give them a STEM experience early on and they know the opportunities on offer.”
Professor Simon Langley-Evans, head of the School of Biosciences, said: “Doreen’s work to empower and inspire girls to follow careers in STEM is the most exciting piece of outreach work that I have encountered.
“We are incredibly proud of her extraordinary achievement.”
Doreen is currently studying in between the University of Sydney and the University of Nottingham as a Ph.D. research fellow with Schlumberger – an organization that provides funding and support for women from developing countries to pursue doctorate degrees.
She is also a United Nations Women Global Champion for Change – a recognition she has received for her work in her home country.
STEM Belle also hosts a boot camp in northern Nigeria at the end of the school year where students are able to learn about subjects like technology, medicine, and agriculture over two weeks.
With her prize money, Doreen has said the full amount will go back into STEM Belle and used specifically towards developing the quality of teachers in Nigeria.
Doreen added: “At university in Nigeria I realized that this imbalance is already implemented in the minds of girls right from a young age. We want them to start thinking differently and that’s why we do this.”
Cormac O’Shea, an assistant professor and Doreen’s Ph.D. supervisor at the University of Nottingham, said: “Doreen’s postgraduate activities across two continents has required independence, resilience, an optimistic outlook, and a great deal of patience.
“Doreen has excelled in all this, but also managed to make a great success of the STEM Belle organization which has a critically important role for promoting STEM to women.
“Doreen’s own scholarly achievements set an incredible example for other young women who are keen to embark on similar career pathways.”