Some opportunities present themselves in your life and mark the beginning of happy endings. For Ann, it was getting introduced to the MasterCard Foundation. Here is how this has impacted her STEM journey;
Hi Ann, we are delighted to have you with us today
Hi Winnie, I am happy to be here. Thank you for inviting me among other wonderful women in STEM like Dorcas Kareithi.
Kindly introduce yourself to our audience
My name is Ann Chepkoech, a young dedicated lady in STEM, born and brought up in a small village called Tach Asis in Sirikwa, Molo District, Kenya. I am a MasterCard Foundation (MCF) alumni and a postgraduate student at the University of Helsinki in Life Sciences and Informatics (Biostatistics) and Data Science. Currently, I am working with the MasterCard Foundation on a 5year project for the Longitudinal Cohort Study of African alumni of the MCF scholars. I am also a mentor to high school and university students back home in Kenya and a part-time volunteer teacher with Kefiso (Kenya Finnish Society), Finland. My research interests include coming up with statistical tools and methods for cancer research and survival analysis.
Please walk us through your STEM journey from childhood to where you are now
I started schooling at Sirikwa Primary and later did my Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (K.C.P.E) at Moi Barracks Primary. I was admitted to Mercy Girls Secondary where I did my Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (K.C.S.E). Later on, in 2011, I started my undergraduate studies at Kabarak University where I did my Bsc in Economics and Mathematics and graduated in 2015 with first-class honors. This was the beginning of my dream journey of becoming a Mathematician/Statistician.
I won a scholarship to pursue my first master’s degree at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Tanzania under the sponsorship of the MasterCard Foundation. Before I completed my MSc program, I was chosen among the few African students who won a master’s scholarship in Finland. Here I did my second Masters in Computational Engineering and Technical Physics, majoring in TechnoMaths at the Lappeenranta University of Technology. I was awarded this degree in 2018. Before joining my current position, I took various courses offered by MasterCard in 2019-2020. I have also been able to do some projects including one that I participated in called Demola Global. My team and I were looking for ways of reducing the spread of Covid19 at homes of the elderly.
Let’s talk about the challenges you have faced while on this journey
One of the main challenges I faced in this journey is a lack of finances to support myself and at some point also being sick. Although my father was working, we still had difficulties. My parents used to take care of some of our cousins. I remember when we were studying at Sirikwa Primary, we were nine of us. We all wanted to eat, put on clothes, and other needs necessary for children. We were used to being sent home for lack of school fees. Getting meals for all of us was also a challenge.
During weekends, we used to go and pick pyrethrum from our neighbors as our mums (because my aunt lived with us and her kids) went to dig farms so that we can get money to buy necessary food items. I grew up used to working and until now I can’t look down upon people who do these kinds of jobs. These are some of the jobs I do here in Finland to try and cater to my family. This experience made me humble myself and prepared me well.
Joining high school, school fees was a challenge again. At some point in Form three, I stayed at home for a long time until my Mathematics teacher (Mr. Tonui) requested that I go back to school. I thank God for him because I don’t think I would be here otherwise. University level was the same struggle but I managed through awards and work-study. Thereafter, when God opened a way to be in Tanzania, I got sick! As a silent person, I never told anyone but since I had insurance from the scholarship I managed though I exhausted it. At some point, I had to use all my savings to buy medication for myself. The sickness somehow affected me because I couldn’t concentrate but I did my best to manage.
Even though I faced all these, I never gave up. I always trusted that God would provide. With all options of losing hope, I tried not to question God and that’s why I am here. I worked extra hard, had to forego a lot of things to secure funds for my studies and surely God never left me. With the love and interest I had for Mathematics, I worked hard to achieve my dream of being among the best researchers; Mathematician/Statistician.
What has inspired you to move forward amidst all these seemingly unending challenges?
Yes, I first had experience in my primary school where our teachers Mr. Karanja and Mr. Kibe used to show us how important Mathematics was. I was young then and never really knew anything about career paths. However, I got inspiration from the late Professor George Saitoti; I always wanted to become like him. Having seen Professor as I grew up made me love Mathematics more and developed an interest in it. As I grew in the field I came to know that there were different fields and I concentrated on Statistics more.
The person who inspired me most in this field was Prof George Saitoti, may his soul continue resting in peace. With the guide also from my lecturers at Kabarak University (Dr. Ragama, Dr. Rugiri, and Dr. Joel Koima), I was able to make the right decision in terms of the areas of specialization. I would like to take this time to appreciate them.
Tell us about some of your achievements and awards
Some of the awards that I have received so far include the Dean’s award for excellence and Vice Chancellor’s award which I got in my undergraduate days. After my undergraduate also, I was privileged to have been selected for the MasterCard Foundation Scholarship.
Another achievement was being selected for Demola Global to participate in projects aiming at solving the spread of Covid19. My other achievement was being among 15 selected students from Africa at AIMS Tanzania for a fully-funded scholarship to study an MSc in Computational Engineering and technical physics.
What do you enjoy doing outside work?
I am a boring person in general and I’m an introvert too. I don’t like meeting with people or going out mostly. During my free time, I do cooking; I love cooking and baking. When I feel tired of schoolwork or my job, I prefer checking for new recipes on YouTube and trying them out. I do also try playing logical thinking games sometimes with my friend. I love spending time with kids too I don’t know why but it’s my nature.
Do you have a favourite quote?
I do love both quotes about life and career. But the most is about this life that we live in by Mother Teresa. “In this life, we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love”. Another one is; “Data Scientists are Statisticians because being a Statistician is awesome and anyone who does cool things with data is a Statistician” ~ Robert Rodriguez.
What advice would you give to a young girl in STEM?
My advice to budding women in STEM is to be smart, work extra hard and above all put God first. I remember back at university I used to spend my whole weekends in the library. And you know for most university students, that is the only time they can have fun. I never regret it, it was through the hard work that I ended up getting scholarships. I knew no one would pay for my masters and I had to work so that any sponsor I come across would be willing to pay for my fees.
Also, I would love to tell ladies to be sincere in whatever they do especially in school. Learn to work without cheating! Look at where you come from and where you are heading to. Most people forget this, especially at university. Be smart and respectful. Be a good example to others; let’s change our countries by being good leaders. It is the little things that we do that define us and can have a great impact on our future.
Work as a team too if we need to be great women to our Nations. Last but not least, STEM courses are not only meant for men, we women can even do it better than them. Just build confidence and face it. Finally, the road to success and greatness is not easy. We all at some point face challenges and are tempted to give up but it’s upon us to take it. Those who get put off by the difficulties/challenging situations will never get to their destinations.
Thank you very much, Ann, for sharing your story with the world through us. We pray that you get the courage to always push forward. May life be kind to you today and in the future.