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Women engineers to receive awards for innovative research in developing countries

OWSD and Elsevier Foundation will recognize five early-career women scientists at AAAS Meeting

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Prof. María Fernanda Rivera Velásquez, PhD, in her lab at the Universidad Nacional de Chimborazo, Department of Environment and Physics, in Ecuador. She is one of five early-career researchers who will be recognized by OWSD and the Elsevier Foundation at the 2017 AAAS Meeting in Boston. (Photo by Iva Lopez Fotografia)

Finding a solution to a longstanding problem requires thinking outside the box. Think of a 3D printer replicating water tanks to store clean water, a new coffee strain that resists a devastating fungus that causes the leaves to rust, or a smartphone app that informs isolated farmers about their tomatoes’ market price.

Of course, solutions have to be co-developed with those most affected, tapping local expertise and the innovation that often springs from knowing the situation intimately.

That’s why it makes sense to support women in developing countries when they take up engineering and technology in secondary school, university and beyond. When women are successful innovators, they often make life-changing, long-term contributions to the lifestyles and economies of the poorest countries. And often, it’s by identifying unseen but critical issues and finding answers that others have not even considered.

The annual OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award for Early-Career Women Scientists in the Developing World celebrates impressive women like these, empowering them to continue their work at an international level — and holding them up as role models for others to follow. As Ylann Schemm, Program Director of the Elsevier Foundation, explained:

Each year, our call for award nominations taps into OWSD’s deep network of women scientists in low-income countries, and once again, we have a very talented group of innovators. Each of these winners is working in emerging fields tackling some of the toughest challenges out there – from cyber security to decontamination of our most precious resources. By celebrating their achievements at the AAAS, our goal is to open doors and connect them with their global research peers.

During the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) 2017 Annual Meeting in Boston February 16 to 20, the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) and the Elsevier Foundation will present five new researchers with these awards. This year’s award is for engineering, innovation and technology — a perfect fit for the AAAS theme: “Serving Society through Science Policy.”

The OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award celebrates pioneering research, rotating annually between disciplines (biological sciences; engineering, innovation and technology; and physical sciences) across five regions: Sub-Saharan Africa; Central and South Asia; East/Southeast Asia and the Pacific; Latin America and the Caribbean; and the Arab region. Recipients were selected by a panel of distinguished scientists. The prize includes $5,000 and all-expenses-paid attendance at the AAAS meeting.

Dr. Rania Mokthar of Sudan was not able to come to AAAS because she could not make alternative travel plans after the US travel ban was lifted.

Awarding women scientists means not only recognizing their impressive work but empowering them to be role models. And in countries where more scientific expertise and gender equality in academia is in critical need, other young women can find this powerfully motivating. “The determination, commitment and enthusiasm of these five women are an inspiration to us all but especially to other women undertaking scientific research in developing countries,” said OWSD President Dr. Jennifer Thomson, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. “This award celebrates their excellent science and demonstrates that their hard work has had an impact both regionally and internationally, despite the difficult local conditions."

Previous winners have reported that the awards have had a powerful impact professionally and personally. By raising the visibility of their research nationally and internationally, the awards open doors to more international networks, high-level conferences and research collaborations.

Elsevier Foundation Awards for Women in Science in the Developing World (Photo by Alison Bert)To attend the award ceremony at AAAS

The winners will receive their awards on Saturday, February 18, in a ceremony at the Minority and Women Scientists & Engineers Networking Breakfast. If you are interested in attending, contact Domiziana Francescon.

The 2017 winners

Rania Mokthar, PhD – Arab Region

Director of the External Relations Office, Sudan University of Science and Technology (SUST), Khartoum

Rania Mokthar, PhDDr. Rania Mokthar is being recognized for her work on solutions for national projects in the field of wireless communications engineering, agriculture automation sensors networks and security systems.

She initiated the first online journal submission system in Sudan for 10 journals published by the Sudan University of Science and Technology, as well as for the online Conference Management System.

I strive to help transform communication systems in African Universities as I see this as key to opening doors to education for many more women in STEM. Receiving the OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award means I can move forward.

Tanzima Hashem, PhD – Central and South Asia Region

Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology  

Tanzima Hashem, PhDDr. Tanzima Hashem is being recognized for her research to protect user privacy while accessing location-based services. In 2014, she took the initiative to arrange the first ever workshop for women in computing in Bangladesh, the highly successful Workshop on Women Empowerment Through ICT (WE-ICT).

The OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award gives me the confidence in fulfilling my dream to serve my country and the world by making the technology usable, beneficial, and acceptable in solving real life problems for the betterment of human lives.

Felycia Edi Soetaredjo, PhD – East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific Region

Lecturer at the Widya Mandala Surabaya Catholic University, Surabaya, Indonesia

Felycia Edi Soetaredjo, PhD

Dr. Felycia Edi Soetaredjo is being recognized for her work on the utilization of waste and cheap materials for environmental remediation of renewable energy. She has used her strong networking skills and the mutual trust relationship she has built with WMCUS and NTUST over the years to develop a dual degree program in Chemical Engineering at undergraduate level at NTUST.

Realizing that a challenge can also be an opportunity, I started working on research in the area of environment and waste. My home country Indonesia is uniquely rich in biodiversity and I believe that nature has answers for each question and shows how great God is.

Grace Ofori-Sarpong, PhD – Sub-Saharan Africa Region

Head of Petroleum Engineering and Vice Dean of Planning and Quality Assurance Unit, University of Mining and Technology (UMaT)

Grace Ofori-Sarpong, PhDDr. Grace Ofori-Sarpong is being recognized for her work on microbial-mineral interaction, recovery of precious metals, environmental biotechnology, microwave processing, water quality monitoring and mine waste management. She has developed to be a role model and mentor, while her interest in women’s and girls’ issues and welfare has propelled her to form an association of Ladies in Mining and Allied Professions in Ghana (LiMAP-Gh).

Process challenges in the extraction of gold from recalcitrant gold-bearing minerals motivated me to start a new research I term mycohydrometallurgy. With the pleasant surprise from OWSD and the Elsevier Foundation, I am greatly encouraged to reach out to higher heights.

María Fernanda Rivera Velásquez, PhD - Latin America and the Caribbean Region

Professor-Researcher at the Universidad Nacional de Chimborazo, Department of Environment and Physics, Ecuador

María Fernanda Rivera Velásquez, PhDDr. María Fernanda Rivera Velásquez is being recognized for her work on the identification of new reactive materials for the reduction of contaminants, with special attention to local natural fibers and minerals (zeolites). She has played a key role in establishing a Center of Science which will be soon formalized between Escuela Superior Politécnica de Chimborazo (ESPOCH) and the governmental agency Yachay Empresa Pública (Yachay EP).

This prize encourages me and many more Ecuadorian and Latin American students to find scientific solutions to environmental problems we all face today.

The organizers and sponsors

Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD)

The Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) is an international organization affiliated with TWAS – The World Academy of Sciences. Headed by eminent women scientists from the South, OWSD has more than 4,000 members. The central role is to promote women's access to science and technology, enhancing their greater involvement in decision-making processes for the development of their countries and in the international scientific community. Created in 1989, OWSD's overall goal is to work towards bridging the gender gap in science and technology. OWSD uses its forum to promote leadership, exchanges and networking for women scientists as well as for discussions to assist in the development of national capabilities to evolve, explore and improve strategies for increasing female participation in science.

The Elsevier Foundation

The Elsevier Foundation provides grants to knowledge-centered institutions around the world, with a sustainability focus on innovations in health information, diversity in STM, research in developing countries, and technology for development. Since 2006, the foundation has awarded more than 100 grants worth millions of dollars to nonprofit organizations working in these fields. Through gift-matching, the foundation also supports the efforts of Elsevier employees to play a positive role in their local and global communities. The Elsevier Foundation is a corporate not-for-profit organization funded by Elsevier, a global provider of scientific, technical and medical information products and services.

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