We’re zooming in from Kampala, Uganda this week, as we embark on a learning journey with Winnie Nakiyingi, AIMS Ghana’13 alumna, sharing her experience on life after AIMS.
Q: Tell us about yourself.
Winnie: I joined Makerere University, Uganda in 2008 for a Bachelor’s degree in Statistics and Economics, under the College of Natural Sciences. My studies were sponsored by an initiative called House of Hope, under the Star Cross Foundation from the USA. My first year of university was not easy because it was a new environment, but I got connected to people of value who made me comfortable with what I was studying. I am forever grateful to my discussion group because the diversity in our backgrounds helped us support each other. One thing I remember most is the small percentage of women in our course! It was then that I was introduced to statistics and aspects of interpreting data to make constructive conclusions. I also got a chance to do my internship with the Ministry of Education and Sports, under their Statistics Department. This helped me learn more about practical statistical approaches to life. I graduated in January 2012 and joined AIMS Ghana in August of the same year.
Q: How would you describe your time at AIMS?
Winnie: AIMS was a whole different thing for me! I had never experienced anything like that in my life! I was so overwhelmed in the first month that I was admitted to the hospital for some days. But, the support system at AIMS is also another component for which I thank the founders. We come from institutions where a deep understanding of content is not a priority. AIMS is different! We don’t just study for the sake of studying; we learn and see the fruits of our hard work – and those fruits come at a cost. Amidst the intensive curriculum and overwhelming content, I found a treasure of a matured mindset at AIMS. I was introduced to computing skills that I had previously only watched in movies! By the time I graduated from AIMS, my critical thinking ability was nothing like what I had before (if I had any, that is). AIMS was the turning point in my life. This was evident when I returned home after the program; I lost many friends because of the shift in mindset. And that’s something I don’t regret; I needed it.
Q: Tell us about the impact AIMS has had on you.
Winnie: If it weren’t for AIMS, I wouldn’t have been able to get my second Master’s degree smoothly, plus my work experience. I give all credit to AIMS for acquiring “simple” skills like networking, communicating, presenting, CV writing to hard skills like programming, report writing, data analysis, and research. It wasn’t just about school and content but equipping me with the essential tools to make it in life as a young African scientist. AIMS partially sponsored my second Master’s, which made me eligible for my first job. What I learnt from AIMS also deepened my understanding of statistics – a field I am passionate about. Through the AIMS program, I found my true calling in life. I have always supported the impact education has on Africa but AIMS made me understand that on a deeper level.
Q: What would you describe as your post-AIMS success story?
Winnie: I would talk about my academic achievements but what’s very personal to me is the work I do on my website, Words That Count. AIMS taught me how to network and communicate with a purpose. Without those skills, I wouldn’t know how to approach these strong, busy ladies. AIMS planted that seed. It is also another way of me giving back – something that’s strongly encouraged at AIMS. I am not stopping here; this avenue has connected me to influential people willing to partner with me and take this initiative to a higher level. I am ready for that. I want to teach young African girls and women both soft and hard skills, especially in statistics and data science.
Q: Which of the SDGs is most important/relevant to you? How do you plan on addressing it in your work?
Winnie: SDG4, achieving quality education. Education will always be a part of my journey. I have a strong belief in what we can achieve as a continent if we avail learning opportunities for all. That is why I am a strong advocate of STEM education, especially among young African girls. My work in achieving this is through my website Words That Count, where I post stories of women in the STEM field. I aim to encourage and inspire young girls out there to stay in school and feel confident about taking on STEM subjects and careers.
Q: What is your message to current AIMS students and young people across the continent?
Winnie: Network and build strong relationships while still at AIMS. You have access to all the resources you can ever need to create a strong foundation for your future. Use them while you still can. Don’t wait to leave, then start writing to professors; they won’t remember you in most cases. Be intentional in everything you do, and always remember to give back.