'Chemistry is Cool' Young Girls Explore Science with Mawazo

Author: Naliaka Odera

“Chemistry is Cool,” we certainly agree. Which is why we were thrilled to host five young girls at the Mawazo office in May as part of their “Chemistry is Cool” class. The students, ranging in ages from 9 to 11 years old, were taking part in Adirah Ashet-Tsalmiel’s home-schooled Chemistry class in Nairobi. While learning about polymers, they came across Mawazo CEO, Dr. Rose (a Material Scientist), as they searched online for African scientists.  Ashet-Tsalmiel was thrilled she told us, as the purpose of her class is to not only educate students but also encourage them to realize that there are many African (and female) scientists impacting the world. Excited by the possibility of her students meeting an accomplished young Kenyan female scientist who lived in the same city as them, Ashet-Tsalmiel reached out to Mawazo asking if her class could meet Dr. Rose and present their end-of-semester projects to the team.

Our CEO couldn’t resist the chance to connect with young girls in STEM and share her passion for women in science, and neither could the rest team. On Thursday May 30th, the girls arrived at the Mawazo offices, cardboard presentations of their class projects in hand, ready to remind us  just how cool chemistry is. The students, Nkatah and Makena Brooks, Tanaka and Tinashe Shikali, and Shali Wangui were bright-eyed, and bubbling with excitement, and questions for the team. Following brief introductions and an ice breaker game that relied on memory, Dr. Rose talked to the girls about the role of science in everyday life, encouraging them to see science in every discipline, including the arts. Examining the state of the current world, she issued a challenge to them as the next generation of leaders and scientists.

“The evolution of mankind has been about manipulating the world around us,” she told them,  “but how can we use this superpower for good?”

A question and answer session with the students followed and was indicative of the curiosity Ashet-Tsalmiel had managed to ignite amongst her students. Makena asked, “What does science mean?” Shali wanted to know a little more about Virtual Reality, which Dr. Mutiso had mentioned as an area of research one of the Mawazo PhD Scholars was engaged in. Tinashe quietly wanted to know how much travelling a scientist accomplishes. It was an enriching and enlightening moment for us, seeing the girls recalibrate their thinking around STEM and reimagining it as a field with exciting possibilities.

Before the afternoon ended, the students gave presentations of their individual science projects. Nkatha began with her project on chromatography, where she sought to answer the question, “Does the price of a marker affect the amount of ink in it?” It did. Tinashe, Shali, and Tanaka all tested the effect of bicarbonate soda in blowing a balloon, each varying their controls slightly. Makena compared the effects of apple vinegar and white vinegar in making eggs more bouncy after steeping. Fun fact: even the ‘bouncy’ eggs broke.   

Gratefully, Ashet-Tsalmiel chose this visit to Mawazo to celebrate the end of her class, asking the Mawazo team to present each girl with a certificate of completion. Two of the girls’ mothers who had accompanied them for their field trip sat beaming with pride, their faces perfectly matched by those of the girls, and the big smiles on our team’s faces. We posed for photos, commemorating a rare moment of connection for young girls in STEM. The hopefulness and joy on the young students' faces reflected the positivity of the moment. Here were Kenya’s future leaders and scholars being reminded that when and if they decide to become scientists, they would find the support they needed already in place and waiting for them.