South Africa: Google Accolade for Young Female Techies

Recently named the Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship recipients, Maletsabisa Molapo (24) and Joyce Mwangama (25) have a bright future ahead in the African Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) landscape.

The scholarship is an international award initiated by Google that seeks to recognise women in ICT who perform with distinction in sciences degrees. It also seeks to encourage and reinforce the presence and leadership of women in technological fields, who currently remain a minority. The scholarship comprises a financial award for one academic year and a networking retreat to Google in Zurich, Germany.

Molapo and Mwangama are two of the three women awarded this prestigious scholarship in South Africa. Both young women are currently enrolled at the university of Cape Town (UCT) pursuing ICT related degrees. Molapo pursues a Masters in Computer Sciences degree as a Mandela Rhodes scholar whilst Mwangama is a candidate for a Doctorate (PhD) in Electrical Engineering in her second year of research.

BACKGROUND

Citing the genesis of her passion for technology, Molapo reminisces about her undergraduate days at the University of Lesotho (NUL), where she completed a Bachelor of Engineering Degree in Computer Systems and Networks in 2009. "I was the only female in my engineering class. I constantly felt the need to excel and be competent as a female in a male dominated class," says Molapo.

Molapo 's interest in the application of ICTs in empowering communities, particularly women and youth, was the catalyst to her founding the National Association of Women in Technology in Lesotho whilst at NUL. The association seeks to cultivate a culture of academic and professional excellence among female technologists in Lesotho. "As students we used to visit high schools, citing our own stories in order to cultivate a culture of positivity towards academic and professional excellence. However, we noticed that girls did not do well in sciences and we challenged ourselves to make a difference," says Molapo.

Mwangama on the other hand was born in Tanzania and migrated to Botswana at the age of 4. She currently holds a Bachelor of Sciences in Electrical and Computer Engineering and a Masters in Electrical Engineering both from UCT. Her interests include Next Generation Mobile Networks and Future Internet architectures and technologies. Talking of her vision for a robust African digital arena, Mwangama says her goals are not restricted by boarders. "The whole African digital and technological landscape is challenged. I believe mobile telecommunication is the next big thing and East Africa has understood how to utilise these for development," she says. "Africa's technologists must understand Africa's difficulties and merge their creativity with technological advancement to solve our energy, internet, climate and social crises.

FUTURE IN ICTs

Both students are set on completing their current degrees and venturing into the tech-world in full force. Molapo's research in the area of Information Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) and focuses on the use of mobile-videos to train low-literate health workers in Lesotho and Sierra Leone. She forms part of the executive leadership of the UCT Chapter of the United Nations Association of South Africa. She has been also been selected as a 2012 fellow of the Moremi Initiative for Women's Leadership in Africa (MILEAD). Her interests are in ICTs for the promotion of health and education and Data Visualisations.

Mwangama's PhD research revolves around the concept of the evolution of Mobile Broadband Networks, which is gaining momentum in the communications and networking research field. She also works for the Electrical Engineering Department at UCT as a Research and Teaching Assistant. Outside academics, Mwangama is heavily involved in volunteer and leadership positions within at her university and within the local community. She has run the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) student branch at UCT. She is also the Pre-University Activities coordinator for the Africa region where she is involved in initiatives to promote engineering and sciences to high school learners.

By the looks of things, both young women have a bright future in the industry and are both looking up to the networks created through the Google scholarship and Zurich trips.

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