There have been attempts by the government and stakeholders to make science subjects more student-centred in response to various teething challenges, including lack of interest among girls in ‘hard sciences’.
Focus has been to improve learning outcomes in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. A STEM improvement programme started in 2018 by a consortium of education stakeholders under the Girls Education Challenge is anchored on three pillars: learners, teachers and the learning environment.
First, the learner, with a focus on motivation, engagement in the subjects, confidence and achievement. Secondly is the teacher, with a focus on improved conceptual knowledge in STEM and third is the learning environment improvement, which focuses on creating a positive STEM ecosystem.
Despite these efforts, enhancing retention of female students in STEM subjects and having them transit into STEM careers is a challenge. But Stephanie-Pauline Anyanga, 21, who recently graduated with a degree in Petroleum Engineering, believes the gender gap in STEM fields can be bridged.
What inspired your decision to study the course?
I recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Petroleum Engineering from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, with a core specialisation in Energy system Integration, exploring synergies between the oil and gas and renewable sectors. My inspiration stems from my background in Loreto Convent Msongari where I received education aimed at the empowerment and liberation of women, giving me the tools to succeed in a challenging and creative field such as engineering. I believe more and more, girls can take up science-oriented careers.
What does petroleum engineering entail?
It encompasses the development of an oil and gas field selecting the most environmentally safe and economically viable option. A petroleum engineer’s role is highlighted throughout the lifecycle of an oil and gas field. Petroleum engineers design and develop methods for extracting oil and gas from deposits below the Earth’s surface.
What’s your quick advice to girls interested in engineering?
They should prepare for the challenge. As a petroleum engineer, you are tasked with developing novel solutions to society’s energy problems. You must diversify your interests, think critically and innovatively. Especially in the present-day fight against climate change, an engineer in society must be able to adapt and work to mitigate the effects of this phenomenon.
How do you intend to make use of your skills?
I intend to implement the skills on carbon-neutral petroleum development in Kenya. Having conducted my research thesis on Energy system Integration, I propose the Integration of renewable energy production in early greenfields developments in Kenya. It presents a viable option to offset carbon emissions and achieve a net-zero oil and gas development in line with the UN sustainable development goals
How useful are your skills in Kenya?
It is clear throughout history that oil and gas has played a critical role in the industrialization and economic development of oil-rich countries such as Norway. In the case of a developing country like Kenya, the skills I have gained as a petroleum engineer are directly relevant to the current development of oil and gas fields and with the opportunity to produce net-zero fields achieve the long-term climate change goals set by the UN.
What’s your take on the push to embrace renewable energy?
An energy transition is a key to the creation of a more balanced energy mix that includes renewable energies. As a petroleum engineer, I have received an adaptable degree with transferable skills to areas such as geothermal drilling and production operations.
How has Covid impacted your study?
Covid impacted my studies especially with the transition from face-to-face teaching to online and a blended learning approach. This took a lot of adaptation. Even so, the experience improved my time and project management skills
What do you say regarding the profession and the future of fossil fuels?
Oil and gas products underpin modern society, supplying everything from electricity, heat, fuel to life-saving medical devices such as MRI machines and road construction materials. The future of oil and gas in Africa is promising especially in newly developing oil and gas fields in countries like Kenya.