#AlumoftheWeek — Denis Awany, AIMS Tanzania ‘16

“As a person in STEM and cognizant of the general challenges faced by young people in our communities, I am always baffled by the thought of leveraging my academic success to help others achieve their dreams”. These are the words of our Alum of the week. The Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative and the Mastercard Foundation Alumnus of AIMS Tanzania is burdened with the challenge to make Africa an excellent place to be. On this week’s episode of #AlumoftheWeek, we bring you the story of Denis Awany. His journey before AIMS, his time at AIMS and his success story beyond AIMS.

As a lover of Science and its applications, Denis had his undergraduate education at Makerere University, where he pursued a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics and Physics under the Ugandan Government Scholarship. The Beligan Government Technical Cooperation Scholarship also aided him in pursuing a Master’s degree in Physics while he still looked out for an opportunity that would enable him to study and practice his long-loved area of Biomedical Science and Mathematics. The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences met this desire.

“My study at AIMS was one of my life-defining moments in many facets. First, career-wise, it provided me
the opportunity to take a first step into the field of Bioinformatics, fulfilling my long-awaited career
aspiration, marking the beginning of my in Bioinformatics. The diversity of the course content enabled me to acquire knowledge and skills in diverse areas, including computational science, pure and applied mathematics, statistics, and, very importantly, computer programming in different languages, including Python, R and Bash. These skills I first acquired at AIMS are the cornerstone of my day-to-day work.

One of the other most notable experiences from AIMS was the engagement in community give back activities. As the then Mastercard Foundation Scholars (MCF) representative, along with the other MCF scholars and the entire AIMS community, I frequently participated in community activities, including counselling and career talks in surrounding secondary schools, visits and donations to hospitals and orphanages. These remain some of the very memorable moments.

Another valuable moment that has stuck with me, and I believe equally with all other alumni, is our Academic Director, Dr Wilson Charles Mahera’s gospel of “seriousness” and community improvement. He constantly lectured that students should be serious at all times and never waste any time, stating that the next Einstein could be among us.”

After completing his AIMS studies at AIMS Tanzania, Denis was appointed an assistant lecturer at the Muni University (Uganda), where he served for a year. During this period, he also served as a Data Officer with Medical Teams International (MTI) – Uganda operations. His experiences and rich knowledge background acquired from AIMS won him a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) scholarship to study for a PhD degree at the University of Cape Town.

Denis is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI), University of Cape Town, where he works as a Bioinformatics researcher on various projects around tackling Tuberculosis. He is also a recepient of the Harry Crossley Foundation Fellowship Award. Outside the University of Cape Town, he also works at the African Centers of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Data Intensive Sciences (ACE), where he teaches a graduate program in Bioinformatics.

AIMS teaches students and alumni to care for and give back to their communities, which is one of Denis’ focus areas. 

“When I travel and interact with people in different villages, my heart bleeds to learn of many brilliant young boys and girls who, for one or more reasons, albeit mainly financial and mentorship, get wasted, and their potential never gets utilized. It is a great challenge to find yourself faced with this situation and yet apparently not making any appreciable contribution towards dressing it. In the end, this leads to the dilemma: to focus on the scientific research at hand, usually with limited financial endowment and thus limited ability to provide help beyond oneself or to delve into the acquisition of financial strength that can be used to provide beyond self. This, I believe, is my greatest challenge, and I will do everything possible within my reach to help these young ones.”