Rockefeller, an AIMS Senegal alumnus, is originally from Cameroon and is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Data Science at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. He is also an alumnus of the AIMS-ESMT IIP and a Ph.D. researcher in the AIMS Doctoral Training Program. In this week’s edition of the #AlumoftheWeek series, Rockefeller shares with us his life after an AIMS Masters Degree.
Q: Tell us about your journey before AIMS.
Rockefeller: I graduated from the University of Douala, Cameroon, with a Bachelor Degree in Physics and continued at the University of Yaounde I, where I also graduated with a Master Degree in Physics (Geophysics). During my MSc studies, I participated in a geophysical campaign organized by the University of Yaounde I. This campaign aimed to collect data about the rocks, build a database, and analyze those data to understand their properties. Coming back to the lab, I quickly realized how much we lacked mathematical tools and data analysis techniques to achieve such tasks. Therefore animated with the feeling of a job undone, conjugated with the desire to learn more after my MSc, I came across a poster about AIMS on campus. I said to myself that I would do everything to join such an institution. Especially because apart from training students in Mathematical Sciences, their mission involves public engagement in science and enabling Africa’s talented students to become innovators driving the continent’s scientific, educational, and economic self-sufficiency. These actions matched with the mindset I have always built for myself.
Q: How would you describe your time at AIMS?
Rockefeller: The mixing of cultures, the interactions with so many like-minded people from different parts of the continent and of the world, and the possibility to learn from everyone were what made AIMS a special place to me. Every day spent on campus was an opportunity to grow as a better human being, a better scientist, a better communicator, and a critical thinker. How lucky and extremely privileged I still feel to have had that opportunity.
Q: Tell us about the impact AIMS has had on you.
Rockefeller: The impact is tremendous. I like to say the breakthrough in my career and my entire life happened at AIMS. I could not say a word in English before coming to AIMS, but I deliver scientific talks and seminars in English now.
I got equipped with the tools (mathematical and computational) I needed to analyze data of any sort (the main reason I came to AIMS). I have been trained and turned into a problem solver equipped with adequate background and the right mindset. AIMS exposed me to other aspects of science, which I now employ to find solutions to different challenges. I now know how to challenge myself, communicate, convey the little I know, and more than anything else, collaborate with, learn from, and empower other people.
Q: What would you describe as your post-AIMS success story?
Rockefeller: The AIMS-ESMT Industry Immersion Program was phenomenal in helping me transition successfully from academia/lab to the world of work. The training equipped me with a set of enterprise-ready skills like organizational behaviour, corporate strategy, the building blocks of economic thinking, and the principle of marketing. I had an internship with a Digital Marketing Agency called Kouaba, which had offices in Douala, Abidjan, and Paris. Having a Data Scientist intern position over there, I worked with a team of community managers, graphic designers, statisticians, developers, and digital strategists to improve the customer relationship management of partner companies. The knowledge I acquired from the ESMT intensive training was instrumental in helping me communicate professionally, deliver assigned tasks on time.
Currently, I operate as a Data Scientist consultant beyond my Ph.D. studies at Stellenbosch University. Still, I rely on those principles learned from AIMS and the IIP to ensure the clients/companies I work with see my performances as an added value in their business.
Q: Which of the SDGs is most important/relevant to you? How do you plan on addressing it in your work?
Rockefeller: I align best with SDG 17: Partnership for the Goals. As a Data Scientist, I don’t just make sense of data; instead, I also ensure to do so ethically. My work also involves and requires teaming up with others, listening to people’s perspectives, learning from them, accepting constructive criticisms, and working out partnerships to solve problems on both small and large scales.
I enjoy adding to the knowledge of others, celebrating people’s achievements, training, and building the capacity of African minds and that of the world’s youth in general. I prefer to collaborate and share knowledge with others and get myself involved in projects that place human beings and their development at the core of their activities.
Q: What is your message to current AIMS students and young people across the continent?
Rockefeller: Before AIMS, I used to be a person who focused more on my rights in society. AIMS transformed me into a person who focuses more on the duties I have towards society. I wish the same transformation for you. Africa needs us, all of us.