NASTY WOMAN: Nuela Adanna Ononiwu (Founder, InspireIT)
Updated: Mar 12
Nuela Adanna Ononiwu is getting down to business - and her 'business' is to see more girls & women participating in the world of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
With her initiative, InspireIT, Nuela is thinking globally, as she works steadfastly to ensure that young women see their futures in STEM as a viable career path. InspireIT comes by its name honestly, offering programming, resources and mentorship opportunities that are sure to change the face of STEM for future generations of women.
NAME: Nuela Adanna Ononiwu
WHERE YOU KNOW HER FROM: InspireIT
WEBSITE & SOCIAL MEDIA:
Nuela Adanna Ononiwu
Describe yourself in three words.
Determined. Go Getter. Passionate.
Tell us about your background, InspireIT, and how this all got started.
I am an Information Technology Consultant with six years’ experience. I work mostly with non-profit organizations, advising them on how to use information technology to meet their business objectives. I earned a Master of Science in Information Technology Management from Anglia Ruskin University in United Kingdom, and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science.
While I was studying in the UK, I was the only female student in my class, and I often wondered why there were so few women in the computing and technology faculty in the university. I started to do some research and learned that there were few young women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in the world, in general. This was when I knew I had to do something.
In 2014, I started InspireIT, a free global mentoring program for girls and women studying or interested in STEM. Since 2014, I have mentored more than thirty girls and women from different countries through the InspireIT platform. I run two online mentoring sessions every year, February to May and August to November, to encourage and support girls and women who are interested in STEM. I run several campaigns and projects under InspireIT to make STEM courses exciting for girls and women, and to get more of them to pursue careers in STEM. One such project is the STEM Club, an initiative to encourage more girls in primary and secondary schools to learn basic programming skills, and build a strong foundation in science subjects.
What resources and training do you provide?
We provide mentoring and basic computer skills training, linking girls to educational resources and programs online, creating STEM networks in schools, providing educational resources and organizing STEM education workshops.
For example, my STEM Club project seeks to address the growing lack of interest in science subjects among many young women in primary and secondary schools. We have launched this project in Nigeria, and we also donated some scientific laboratory equipment to some of the schools where we launched the project. Through this project, girls will meet like-minded people, talk about their challenges and learn as well as share their interests and curiosity.
What are the ages of the girls & women you work with?
To volunteer as a mentor with InspireIT, the minimum age is 16 and you must be either a STEM professional, working in a STEM field or studying a STEM course. For mentors, I work with girls and women aged 16-65. Men are also encouraged to be mentors but the mentee must be a girl or woman.
For mentees, the girls and women must be between the ages of 7 to 50. They could be students or professionals. I also take into consideration women who might be interested in changing their careers or learning basic computer skills. A woman who comes from a different background might just be interested in learning basic computer/IT skills and not necessarily changing her career. Sometimes, they learn and they are excited, and they want to switch to a STEM career.
What was your greatest challenge starting InspireIT?
Initially, when I started InspireIT, it was mostly done online. After a while, I discovered that some of the girls and women interested in my program were not able to access the Internet as frequently as they would have liked. Other challenges I encountered were different time zones and unstable Internet connectivity. So, I started thinking about how to reach these girls and women physically. Doing this, however, required funds. Because I had no funds to carry out projects and organize workshops, I started searching for grants.
Early in 2017, I received my first grant from The Pollination Project USA to carry out my first project under InspireIT. The project, STEM Club, is an initiative to encourage girls in primary and secondary schools to learn basic programming skills and build a strong foundation in science subjects. The grant made a significant difference for my work because it allowed me to reach out, physically, to girls in school. Most of the girls benefiting from the project would not have been able to reach me if I was solely carrying out the program online.
In September 2017, InspireIT became an Africa Code Week Google Micro Grant Recipient, funded by Google. I was then able to organize a coding workshop, called “Learn a Skill, Learn Coding” in one of the schools where STEM Club has been launched.
What difference(s) do you notice, in response to STEM, across generations?
The perception of STEM seems to affect how women pursue STEM careers and, sadly, this has not changed much over the years and across generations. Many young women are still uncertain about their future in a STEM career.Teachers, too, play a big role as they heavily influence the choices their students make and how they perceive STEM. Some still believe STEM careers are better suited for males.
Also, the “Queen Bee” effect (when does not encourage many women to continue working in STEM.
The older generation, however, was not as vocal as the younger generation is. These days, we have Facebook groups, as well as countless online platforms and networks where women in STEM can share their experiences and seek advice. This younger generation is more aware of the challenges that exist in STEM and the opportunities they have, and are more open to joining supportive networks, as well as seeking out resources and mentorship.
You work with women in different countries. Are there any country- or cultural-specific differences in how they interact with STEM?
Peoples’ preferences, beliefs and values differ, and this is not very different when it comes to STEM. Most times, culture influences the behaviour and preferences of the women, including girls interested in STEM. Due to different cultures and, in some cases, traditions, some women have faced more underlying challenges and this has affected some of the choices they have made. Exposure, mentoring and being in a supportive network also contributes to how women interact with STEM. We understand this, and that is why we use a multicultural approach during our mentoring sessions and encourage interactive and collaborative learning.
What did you aspire to be & do when you were younger?
Initially, I wanted to become a doctor, but the sight of blood scared me too much! As time went on, I liked the idea of becoming a Computer Scientist and chose Computer Science instead. I guess it all makes sense that, now, I’m leading this initiative.
What’s the greatest business challenge you’ve faced?
Choosing a strong team definitely ranks high. InspireIT runs several projects aimed at getting girls and women to pursue careers in STEM. These projects are carried out by volunteers, and choosing the right team members is key to the success of the projects. And many of them take place concurrently, so I have to ensure that I come up with strong teams so that projects are executed on time and successfully, and that we’re prepared, as best as we can be, for inevitable challenges and possible setbacks. I spend a lot of my time “thinking on my feet”, so I appreciate when my team members are proactive, coming up with their own solutions and finding ways out of problems.
What’s the greatest personal challenge you’ve faced?
The greatest personal challenge I have faced is dealing with my mother’s death. It affected me a considerable amount emotionally, and I was having a hard time concentrating at school. I could have failed most of my courses or not even graduated with my classmates. Also, there was the fact that I was in a country that was still new to me, and in an unfamiliar environment that I was also trying to adjust to.
What’s been your most memorable experience with InspireIT?
InspireIT accepts mentors and mentees from every part of the world. Through InspireIT, my goal is to expose girls interested in STEM to international mentors (professionals in STEM) who can guide them. For me, every mentoring cycle is memorable. I get to interact and connect with young women from different countries. Being a member of World Pulse (WP) and talking about InspireIT and its projects through the organization’s online platform has also been amazing. I had so much support from the WP community when I first launched InspireIT. My first interview about InspireIT was conducted by WP. The team liked my project so much that they announced it on the platform.
I have had wonderful support from men, as well. A man by name of Ken Buis (from Canada) was very supportive when I started InspireIT. He signed up to be a mentor and has been very encouraging, even though we have yet to meet face-to-face.
Also, earlier this year, I signed up to be a mentor for the World Pulse Advanced Digital Changemaking training program. I was assigned to mentor a young woman from Kenya. To see her selected as one of the top eight finalists at the end of the program, and subsequently becoming an Impact Leader, was quite emotional for me and inspired me to continue pushing InspireIT to greater heights.
What’s been your greatest “success story”?
Seeing myself grow every day, both personally and professionally, is my greatest “success story.” Seeing myself become the woman I have always dreamt of becoming and working towards it despite the challenges I face everyday. Choosing to create a “path”, and working towards making it a global phenomenon.
Also, I consider earning my MSc at 25 a success story because I had just lost my mother the year I started my master’s degree, and I was still struggling to come to terms with her death. Successfully completing my program, despite the challenges I faced, is something I give myself kudos for.
What is your greatest fear?
To be honest, there is nothing specific that I fear. If I had to choose a fear, it would be something happening to a family member.
Looking back, what is the. one thing you would have done differently?
There’s nothing I would do differently. I keep learning every day.
What’s the best piece of advice you can offer someone just beginning her entrepreneurial journey?
Find out what you are passionate about and believe in yourself because you will face many hurdles. Also, know yourself well enough to know how you react to – and handle – challenging situations.
What do you do to unwind and decompress?
Exercise, take a nap and watch movies.
What’s the #1 item on your bucket list?
Travel around the world. For me, traveling is one of the greatest forms of education.
Tell us about a woman who inspires you.
There are many women who inspire me. Those who stand out, however, are Grace Hopper and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
I admire Grace’s perseverance and her outstanding contributions to Computer Science, and I admire Ngozi’s unique vision for development and her policies that enable youth and women’s empowerment. I find her incredibly brilliant, hardworking and resilient.
What is your professional mantra?
Attitude is everything.
How can we, as a global community, support you?
InspireIT is continuously growing and I want to reach as many girls and women, in every part of the world, as I can. My vision is to see a world where many women are connected through mentoring. I want to introduce InspireIT to as many countries as possible, and I am planning and working towards introducing our projects to countries in partnership with some non-profit organizations (local and international). If anyone knows of an organization(s) that would be interested in partnering with InspireIT, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.
How would someone get involved with InspireIT?
You can visit our website to sign up as a volunteer. You can also send us an e-mail or register for any of our workshops. The third season (second cycle) of our mentoring program is ongoing, and you can send us an e-mail to register for this, as well.
What advice do you wish you'd given your 20-year-old self?
brace yourself and look for a mentor.
What do you know for sure?
you can achieve anything you set your mind to.
What have you learned?
look before you leap.
What will you never learn?
how to steal.
Best piece of advice?
don't give up and follow your heart
Did it work?
The moment that changed everything?
The year 2014, I was going through some “tough moments.” Those moments made me face the fact that I had a purpose and much more potential than I realized, and that I could do better.
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