The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) is on a mission to recruit Africa’s brightest students troubled by the continent’s many challenges and supercharge them to come out with homegrown and long-lasting solutions. Since its inception in 2003, AIMS has given nearly 3,000 Africans from over 40 countries a great sense of responsibility towards their communities. They go the extra mile to make lives better for future generations. One of such alumni is our #AlumoftheWeek. From Tanzania, Elimboto Yohana, AIMS South Africa Post Graduate Diploma Class of 2009, is our Alumnus of the Week.
Q: Tell us about yourself and your motivation to pursue a career in STEM.
Elimboto: I instantly got interested in sciences and mathematics as soon as I was introduced to formal education. I realised this as early as my primary and secondary school days. These interests grew and made me resolve to contribute significantly to science and mathematics, solve various societal challenges, and contribute to cutting-edge sciences. Therefore, I pursued a Bachelor’s degree in education, majoring in mathematics, before coming to AIMS in 2008.
Q: Share with us your experience at AIMS
Elimboto: AIMS helped nurture my interests and aspirations, enabling me to develop desirable qualities and abilities for further studies and career development. I chose AIMS for several reasons, including but not limited to the well-constructed academic programs, a world-class learning environment, lecturers and tutors, teaching and learning resources, and unique and enchanting study interactions. AIMS brought together various Africans’ geographically, sociologically and culturally at the intersection of sciences and mathematics.
The program offers an interdisciplinary learning experience; as such, it significantly combines mathematics and computational skills in tackling problems with collaborative constructivism and problem-solving teaching approaches. This experience made AIMS exceptionally a unique place compared to many other learning institutions I had been to. The location of AIMS South Africa (positioned within the beautiful city of Cape Town, near beautiful beaches) left unforgettable memories.
An opportunity to study at AIMS has fueled and opened avenues for further studies and career development. Joining AIMS was a stepping stone and a critical introductory moment to the research world. I conducted a research project titled “Computability on Convex Sets” under the supervision of Professor Vasco Brattka from the University of Cape Town. This experience was a significant step and an initiation for substantial communication in scientific research.
Q: If you were to summarise your success stories after AIMS, what would be your major highlights?
Elimboto: After AIMS, I joined Wits University to pursue a Master of Science degree in Computational and Applied Mathematics. I acquired more competence and solid research skills encompassing software development and mathematical modelling to tackle significant research problems. In April 2020, I completed my PhD in Mathematics (Cosmology) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. My research was a synergy of Mathematics, Physical and Computational Sciences to address forecasting, analysis, and modelling challenges in surveying extremely large-scale structures of the Universe.
Currently, I’m a Mathematics lecturer at the Department of Physics, Mathematics, and Informatics of the Dar es Salaam University, College of Education (DUCE). My research interests are in areas that inter-discipline Mathematics, Statistics, Physical Sciences, Artificial Intelligence, Machine/Deep Learning, Data Science, Big Data, High-Performance Computing, and Software Development.
This year, at DUCE, I’m the Principal Investigator of the “Data-Driven Analysis for Energy Theft Detection in Power Grid Systems,” a research project funded by the University of Dar es Salaam through Competitive Research and Innovation Grant 2021/2022. The project’s goal is to apply advanced Machine Learning and Big Data analytical techniques to explore the smart meter data to improve the understanding of customer behaviour and power-related malicious activities detection. To enhance electricity services such as demand response and power management. In particular, we are interested in devising an algorithmic process that will improve the detection of non-technical power loss such as electricity theft to boost efficiency in power management and distribution.
I have been very keen on promoting and advancing the status of education in Tanzania and the African continent in general. I founded the Tanzania Students and Scholars Foundation Limited (TSSFL) in 2012. TSSFL (www.tssfl.co) serves as a medium to target and bring together young people who are focused, disciplined, dedicated, and faithfully strive to achieve and utilise their full potential. Youth that’s willing to provide unprecedented solutions to various social, economic, educational, and developmental challenges. To realise the objectives of TSSFL, I launched an online platform, namely, TSSFL Stack, in 2014.
Mathematics is arguably a foundation skill on which many science subjects build. Due to its importance, I have decided to pioneer an “Open Source Software and Web-based Technologies to Enhance Early Grade Numeracy Teaching and Learning,” a project funded by the University of Dar Es Salaam through the Competitive Research and Innovation Grant for the year 2020/2021. The project is motivated by the need to change how we teach numeracy and mathematics in general, where the appropriate use of adequate technology becomes inevitable. Under this project, I’m leading a team of researchers from Dar Es Salaam University, College of Education, to develop various interactive, attractive, fun and entertaining GeoGebra applets that will help to motivate and inspire early grade learners to learn numeracy meaningfully. Hence significantly and statistically improving their critical thinking skills, creativity, knowledge of the subject, and performance.
Q: What have you noticed as the challenge facing the discipline throughout your STEM career?
Elimboto: The traditional approach to teaching STEM-related courses in schools does not adequately equip learners with the importance and relevant application of the subject matter. This situation translated to its limited application in addressing various societal problems targeted at social, economic and developmental returns. This lack of interest can also be attributed to communicating scientific findings. Most scientists present findings with only the scientific community in mind. However, most of the people we want our work to influence their decision-making are non-scientific. These presentation methods make understanding of findings difficult, affecting their real-life application. The general public plays a crucial role in promoting, supporting, and even defining and shaping the future of STEM; as such, scientists should be the focus of our communication, re-thinking solutions that can address such challenges from the grassroots.
Q: What advice will you give current students and other young Africans who want to pursue a similar career path to yours?
Elimboto: It is essential to remember that the most critical life skill is the willingness and ability to learn new skills (learning how to learn) and the desire to improve oneself.