The first time I met Adeola was in JSS1 (7th grade) in Queens College. She was super nice and we immediately became friends. She is always smiling which makes her very approachable and easy to talk to. Over the years, though we’ve been in separate continents, we’ve always been able to keep in touch with one another and watching her growth has been amazing. Adeola and I decided to meet at Neo Café for our interview and as we begin, I ask…
Who is Adeola Shasanya?
Born and raised in Lagos state, Adeola is the second/last child of her mother. She attended Corona Primary School and then Queen’s College Yaba Lagos for her secondary education. Adeola pursued her undergraduate degree from Covenant University and also acquired a master in renewable energy and clean technology from the University of Manchester. When I ask about her childhood, she says, “Growing up, I was always interested in fixing things. I played around with things in the house just tinkering not necessarily knowing what I was doing. Don’t get me wrong, I liked my Barbie’s too but much of my attention was in the things I could fix around the house.” Adeola’s engineering story as she says started in SS1 (10th grade). She took biology then and hated it. She could not wrap her mind around the fact that she had to study something she hated. Fortunately for her, she was able to drop biology and pick up applied electricity. She admits that initially, it was hard doing applied electricity because that was the first time they taught it and no one was sure what they were doing. She stayed the course and in S.S.2 (11th grade) she won a prize for the best student in applied electricity and this was the exact motivation she needed to keep going. She says, “If I didn’t take that risk of dropping biology which I hated, I would have graduated from secondary school with no prize and no motivation to keep pursuing engineering in general.” When Adeola was heading to Covenant University, she wanted to be an architect. She was convinced this was her path to take until her mother reminded her that she just won a prize for applied electricity, why not try her hand at engineering. Around this time, Adeola had an older family friend who had just graduated from the University of Lagos with an engineering degree. She recalls, “My older family friend graduated with an engineering degree and she was so pretty. At the time, I didn’t think it was possible for a woman to be so pretty and excel at something so difficult.” This served as even more motivation for Adeola because she figured there were no limits to who could become an engineer. She finished her degree at Covenant and then decided to attend the University of Manchester for her Masters in Renewable Energy.
For someone who had always excelled in her studies, she found herself struggling during her masters. She admits that teaching techniques were different and it took some getting used to for her. Adeola failed a course and she remembers being in shock and saying to herself, “You smart girl that everyone knows, you’re failing.” That failure was the boost she needed. Adeola took it as a wake up call and she decided to not expect to succeed just because she always had but because she put in the work. Once she was done with her masters, Adeola was not content with just having a certificate and heading back to Nigeria. She says, “I did not believe I had taken everything that I came for, I felt there was still something missing.” As a Christian woman, Adeola knew that she had to do more to give back. She couldn’t just acquire her education and not find a way to inspire others. She used to be a part of an organization called Robogals. It was an extracurricular activity she picked up and they had chapters in various places in England and some other parts of the world. The idea was to bring in girls from primary school and secondary schools to teach them robotics through Legos LXT and other fun technical things. In the middle of volunteering for this she realized this is not something in Lagos yet and she wanted to be able to create such for girls there. She came up with the name Afro-Tech Girls and had a vision for what she wanted to do but had no idea how she was going to execute. When Adeola moved back to Nigeria she had two other friends who moved back to Nigeria as well. Her two friends Morenike and Nkem are both engineers and Morenike was in search of a theme for her final NYSC project. Adeola spoke to her about her vision for Afro-Tech Girls and she was on board. Nkem had completed her NYSC project but was also looking to do something sustainable instead of a one-time project. They were all on board to create Afro-Tech Girls. This was in 2014 and they started Afro-Tech Girls. They registered as an organization and got their certifications because they knew no one would take them seriously if they didn’t do that.
The three women started their organization focusing on girls from low-income homes. They started with going on a school tour to introduce their organization to the girls. They explained what engineering is to them and the different aspects of it and the different career choices they had by being in STEM. In January 2015, they had their first event, which took the whole day. They hosted girls from five different schools. During the event, Adeola and her co-founders noticed that the girls were very intelligent and very much into what they were being taught. With the results they got from their first event, they realized there was a need for STEM programs for girls in Lagos. They decided to keep going with it and they were able to get girls from the same five schools to be a part of a program conducted by the Lagos State government at the time. They were able to bring the girls in and show them actual power plants and get hands on experience in engineering activities. The Afro-Tech Girls founders went ahead to create a mentorship program where the girls were paired with women in STEM for a six-month mentorship program. During this time, they also had events where they brought women who had reached a certain level in their STEM careers to speak to the girls and this allowed them see that building a career in STEM is not impossible. The girls were very inspired by Adeola and her co-founders and for the first time, they were able to dream bigger than themselves and hope for a future that wasn’t picked for them but that they are interested in.
While Afro-Tech Girls has had a lot of success, they face challenges due to the fact that they are an NGO. Much of what they do is capital heavy and they rely completely on donations in order to have the events they do for the girls. In recent past, they have had potential sponsors back out last minute. Situations like these puts pressure on Adeola and her co-founders to make things happen from their own financial capabilities. In order to generate more revenue, they plan on selling merchandise for their brand as well as more publicity to generate donations.
What’s next for Adeola?
To help grow the Afro-Tech Girls Brand, Adeola will work together with her team and the advisory board to create a financially sustainable plan to ensure the business is well founded. She also has plans to break into the University space through Afro-Tech Girls clubs in various universities across Nigeria. The club would be seen as an educational support group for girls in studying STEM in Universities through specially tailored programs for the female students. She also hopes to develop a more technical training curriculum for the girls to develop hands on tech skills to enable them excel in their career and hopefully start their businesses at young ages.
I hope this rant inspires a girl/woman out there to not sell herself short. There’s a lot we can do as women to impact the world of science and there is never a right or wrong time to start so guess what? JUST DO IT!
Have a great week ahead.