Larisa Bowen-Dodoo: A Young Ghanaian Woman Striving To Put STEM On The Radar
Tell us about yourself
Levers in Heels is an initiative I recently started which seeks to inspire, connect, and build a record of Ghanaian women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)-related careers via social media. Why social media? – The Ghanaian youth is increasingly becoming sophisticated with its use.
Aside blogging and organizing Levers in Heels mentorship programs, I am a Student Network Coordinator for the Ghana Biomedical Convention, an active NGO in Ghana in close partnership with the Ghana Biomedical Research Network (GBRN) in North America, committed to advancing bio-medicine and promoting health in Ghana, the West Africa sub-region, and the continent at large. I organize seminars to introduce Science and Engineering students to the convention, as well as inform them on its benefits. I am also a mentor for Tech Needs Girls Ghana, an organization for young Ghanaian girls who want to grow in the world of technology. Its previous events have been centered on sessions where young girls as little as 12 years old have been taught how to develop mobile and web applications and interact with software that teach them more about technology. Studies have shown that the more you keep inspiring young people through mentorship or advocacy, the more they get interested. Other studies reveal that women need to see and learn from female role models more often than men do with their male role models. I believe practical mentorship is significant.
What prompted your interest in STEM and even further, why start a blog on girls in STEM?
It was an easy decision for me to study Science in high school because I have always been a curious person. I desire to understand how things work and why they work the way they do. So, me choosing to study engineering in university came by as no surprise. I majored in Biomedical Engineering because I enjoy Biology, Physics and Mathematics. I also love the fact that this field allows me to be extremely creative, especially with design projects that help in improving human life and medicine.
When I began to think about blogging almost a year ago, I wanted to share stories of my undergraduate school experiences, successes and failures with other females, young and old, in STEM, in hopes that we could all form a virtual support network for each other. After several Google searches, I realized there are already communities of women blogging about their experiences in STEM worldwide, so what would set me apart? And then it hit me. There was no ‘voice’ for Ghanaian women in STEM.
During my undergraduate career at the University of Ghana, I was one of four ladies in my engineering class, 87% male-dominated. I noticed similar trends in Science and Engineering faculties of other educational institutions as well. The truth is, in Ghana, women are highly under-represented in STEM fields. This trend is motivated by the widely held notion that STEM is a reserve of men. There is little work being done in raising awareness about how and why Ghanaian girls and women should get involved in STEM, and how it can lead to developing Ghana in the long run.
There was no known online platform in Ghana to give our young women in STEM a voice, and to inspire others at the same time. So I decided I was going to create one thanks to social media. I am happy to say, so far, Levers in Heels is doing really well. This goes to show how effective social media can be as a tool for education and inspiration.
Tell us about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.
What was the most difficult period in your Career life, and how did you deal with it?
During my early undergraduate years, I felt intimidated studying Engineering in my male-dominated class. Most of the lecturers/tutors were male also. At times, I felt I just could not fit in because, usually, females in this field are not really taken seriously compared to their male counterparts. However, I knew that for a young woman to do well in this field, I needed to make unusual efforts to find my place in this very broad field and succeed. These unusual efforts included learning things I knew I loved about Engineering on my own, thanks to Google, TED Talks and YouTube, and combining and applying these things to what I was being taught by my lecturers. No one can stop you from learning on your own because you are female.
In Ghana, what do you think is severely lacking within the Technology Communities?
Ghana’s effort to develop technology-wise has achieved little over these past years. I attribute this to the lack of fully equipped specialized training institutes with very few trained personnel. This prevents the country’s efforts to compete with the rest of the world. I also think Ghanaians need to adopt and adapt to ‘technology culture’, because whether we like it or not, technology is key in the development of every country. I suggest that the Ghanaian government should form a number of bodies that should be able to analyze technology needs in different sectors like our educational and industrial sectors. They should also be able to implement some good strategies that could lead to improved technical capabilities of our children and workers, while encouraging entrepreneurship.
What do you think the future will offer Ghanaian Women as far as the ICT sector is concerned?
I am happy to see the emergence of a number of Ghanaian women in ICT. Regina Agyare, founder of Soronko Solutions, Anne Amuzu, co-founder of Nandimobile and Farida Bedwei, co-founder of Logiciel, just to mention a few, are women who are doing really well in this sector. They are women I look up to. This gives me so much hope that Ghanaian women will have a bright future as far as the ICT sector is concerned.
What is your career advice to college students entering the Technology Industry?
From my own experiences, and the interviews I have had with women in the industry, I say go for it with all the determination and positivity in the world. No one can stop you from pursuing any dream except yourself.