Monrovia — In Liberia, like many parts of Africa, it is no secret that women and girls are underrepresented in the areas of Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). This is despite the fact that they represent more than half of the country's population.
Cognizant of this, the Society of Women Engineers in Liberia (SWEL) was established to bridge the gap. Hence, Swedish Ambassador to Liberia Ingrid Wetterqvist says SWEL represents an idea that women are breaking frontiers in a male-dominated technical field.
Ambassador Wetterqvist said "to see a group of female professionals breaking this frontier is so important and inspiring" primarily because what SWEL is doing will go a long way in promoting education and professional advancements.
According to the Swedish Envoy in Liberia, the idea of the Society of Women Engineers of Liberia supports Liberia's development efforts. "This is so impressive and important for both Liberia and Sweden," she stated.
The Swedish Ambassador to Liberia was speaking as Keynote Speaker at the 7th anniversary "Networking Dinner" of SWEL on October 27, 2019 at the Monrovia City Hall. The colorful 7th Anniversary program organized by a committee chaired by Engineer Rebecca K. Fallah, a Geologist.
She recounted Sweden's contribution to the engineering field dating as far back as Liberian-American-Swedish Mining Company (LAMCO) mining operations in Liberia during the 1960s that led to the construction of the Port of Buchanan and the Yekepa-Buchanan railroad.
"As a country, Sweden is proud of its feminist policy. Equality between women and men, boys and girls is a fundamental aim of Swedish foreign policy. Ensuring that women and girls can enjoy their fundamental human rights is both an obligation within the framework of our international commitments, and a prerequisite for reaching Sweden's broader foreign policy goals on peace, security and sustainable development," Amb. Wetterqvist indicated. She went on to say that whatever Sweden does, the perspectives, benefits and participation of both women and men should be key.
Amb. Wetterqvist stressed that the Society of Women Engineers of Liberia (SWEL) "could be poised to fulfilling two fundamental purposes: providing mentorship, something that is needed for particularly young women engineers; a platform for advancing the concerns of women and girls interested in STEM."
The Swedish Envoy emphasized that giving the vitality of science and engineering profession to development in the world, and particularly in Liberia, it is important that emphasis is placed on technical disciplines in STEM which are the primary goal of SWEL in the face of enormous development needs of Liberia.
SWEL, according to the organization's Vice President, Mrs. Deena Cooper Morgan, came into existence due to the ardent quest of female engineers to remedy the issue of women in the profession being treated with lip-service.
"When we were in school, there was a lack of opportunities for women engineers in terms of access to internships and jobs. At some point, women were asked to trade their pride in exchange for internship opportunity. So, we came together as a network to rewrite that history," Engineer Cooper-Morgan said.
The SWEL Vice President intoned that as a result of this network, many female engineers have shared opportunities with their colleagues and the rate of intimidation is taking a downturn. She added that whenever there is a job opening in a particular company, one of us who may have connection with that company would recommend a friend and the feedbacks have been positive.
As SWEL hits seven years of existence since 2013, Mrs. Cooper-Morgan said the group has earmarked the construction of a resource center that would be used to groom the interest of students in STEM to pursue their goals regardless of the challenges that come along. "We launched a project to build a Youth Resource Center to provide technical literature and resources for technical students. Presently, we have purchased two acres of land in Marshall City, Margibi County for this purpose," she disclosed.
She added that at seven, the organization is celebrating a paradigm shift in the way SWEL operated from its inception. "This is the first time that we are celebrating our anniversary for three whole days. This speaks to the importance we attach to this 7th anniversary.
SWEL is an auxiliary of Engineering Society of Liberia (ESOL) and works to establish engineering and technical fields as a highly desirable career for women through an exciting array of training and development programs, networking opportunities, outreach and advocacy activities.
Meanwhile, on Friday, October 25, 2019, the organization hosted a one-day seminar for high school students from across Liberia who may be desirous of pursuing careers in the engineering profession
At the one day event, Jlateh Parjibo, a trained Architect, in his mentoring lecture told the gathering of predominantly students to consider the power of observation and innovation.
He said innovation is the solution to foolish thoughts. He encouraged them to lead, observe and pay keen attention to small details. "You should be focused and avoid distractions. Ensure that you make effective use of social media and to your advantage", he said.
For her part, young Chemist Dianna Barkolleh indicated that the Sciences provide answers to every question life poses. "My story as young woman pursuing a career in STEM should inspire most of you young women like myself. I used internet wisely whilst I was on campus at Cuttington University", she told her peers.
She continued "it helped me earned my degree. Many days, I would research chemistry lectures on the internet ahead of my instructor. Whenever we were given a new lesson, I would visit Youtube to watch lectures videos on that topic and it helped broaden my knowledge and understanding on the subject".
Charles Bropleh keynote address highlighted the fact that an Increase in the number of STEM professionals has the ability to grow the economy.
He said "the challenge has always been to encourage more women to consider STEM a career. But you must first muster the courage as females to compete with your male counterparts".
He recommended amongst others a greater collaboration between STEM Associations and the Ministry of Education. And proposed a National STEM Fair Day where students can showcase their ideas.
"We need to ensure there is STEM clubs in every High School in the country. We want to see increased collaboration with international organizations to expose young STEM students and exceptional ones be given scholarship opportunities", he said.
Achievement Bio: SWEL has worked with several student groups in technical institutions in Liberia and its professional members have participated immensely in the infrastructural development of Liberia, not only in government, but also the private sector.
Our continuing objectives are to influence the minds of young female students into believing that a technical profession is a desirable career aspiration and to empower young women engineers and technocrats to meet the challenges of the male-dominated technical profession.
SWEL provides engineering workshops and seminars in the fields of STEM and organizes networking, mentoring, and social activities. Currently, we are working to ensure that prospective women engineers reach their full potential by providing onsite construction training opportunities for them to expand their horizons. It is also our desire to establish STEM Clubs in various high schools in Liberia in order to continuously spark students' interest in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. SWEL has established Chapters and Sub-Chapters at several university campuses and technical vocational training institutions in Liberia: Stella Maris Polytechnic (SMP) Chapter - Montserrado County; University of Liberia (UL) Chapter - Montserrado County a) Booker Washington Institute (BWI) Sub-Chapter (Margibi County); Monrovia Vocational Training Center (MVTC) Sub-Chapter; Grand Bassa Community College (GBCC) Chapter - Grand Bassa County; Lofa County Community College (LCCC) Chapter - Lofa County and William V. S. Tubman University (TU) Chapter - Maryland County.
SWEL has recently partnered with Bezaleel + Turnkey Contractors, Inc. on the USAID-funded SHINE Project, where twenty-two SWEL student members were seconded to various construction projects in order to gain practical onsite construction training for a period of eighteen months, ending in May 2019. Works under the SHINE Project included: Construction of the Blind Girls Dormitory; New construction of 5 Staff Housing Units at Cuttington University, Bong County; 3. Expansion/Renovation of the Library at Cuttington University, Bong County; University of Liberia Engineering Building (Prioritized Rehabilitation); New construction of LIPA Administrative & Classroom Building in Doemah Town, Margibi County; New construction of annex community colleges in Grand Bassa, Lofa and Nimba Counties.