Grand Challenges: Girls in STEM Education

Pictured: Student working in WISER's top-notch chemistry labs

In 2013, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation launched Grand Challenges, a series of annual initiatives aimed at fostering innovation in order to solve global health and development issues. These initiatives highlight and raise awareness of a clearly identified problem: encourage innovative researchers to collaborate and continue in research that has potential to help those most in need, and expand a global network of researchers, partners, and programs.

Since 2013, five Grand Challenges in India, Brazil and South Africa have been launched to combat maternal health, improve child literacy, overcome certain agricultural barriers, bolster the movement for democratic governments, and to improve the quality and sustainability of water for increasing food security.

Just a few weeks ago, Trevor Mundel, the President of Global Health at the Gates Foundation, launched a new Grand Challenges: Grand Challenges Africa. Grand Challenges Africa will run through the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA) and will encourage research and development all over the continent while building “local scientific capacity”. The program is intended to spotlight scientists across the African continent whose ideas have the potential to truly transform our world. Grand Challenges Africa will allow those interested in the sciences, and those already involved in the sciences, global, financial, support and attention for any and all scientific ideas, and a platform for unification to make test these ideas and make them a reality.

Grand Challenges Africa brings to light not just the importance of research and development in global health, but also the importance of working together, of strong support, of the power of research to empower communities, and the transformative potential of this research to provide positive, global change. All of these are fundamental aspects of what WISER does every day.

Pictured: WISER Girls share a laugh during an academic "Crossfire" competition

WISER offers its girls the opportunity to participate in STEM research, through science courses, a living lab, and an extracurricular engineering club, empowering them to create sustainable solutions to their community’s most pressing needs.

As a member of the Clinton Foundation’s No Ceilings Initiative, WISER offers STEM opportunities for all of its students. Called “Lighting Up STEM Education”, WISER girls learn how to create sustainable flashlight out of all types of recycled material, like old water bottles and peanut butter jars.

Having flashlights can decrease the amount of indoor air pollution in homes, as flashlights reduce the risk that comes from burning harmful solid fuels indoors. STEM education has not only allowed the girls to learn more in the sciences and therefore perform better on Kenyan national science curricula exams, but has also empowered them to apply their knowledge to sustainable solutions for their community. This STEM education has increased knowledge, empowerment, leadership, and entrepreneurship.

Grand Challenges Africa will support researchers like Coenie Louw who is researching a way to extend the shelf life of amoxicillin from two weeks to two years through reconstituting it using oils instead of waters. Shelf life is not an issue in the United States, where transportation and refrigeration is easy. Thus, scientists in the United States have not thought critically about addressing this concern, as it does not really concern us. Grand Challenges Africa offers Louw support to solve this issue that will save thousands of Africans’ lives.

The next Coenie Louw could be a WISER girl, a girl with the STEM education knowledge to pursue scientific research to develop innovative solutions to global challenges. Today WISER girls develop flashlights; tomorrow they develop a longer shelf life for a vaccine. WISER, like The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, realizes that supporting scientific research and development is key to solving today’s global health challenges.