African American History Month is in full swing, and in celebration we would like to highlight a particularly special African woman by the name of Wangari Maathai. As we are focused on STEM Education, rather than providing a total picture of her life, we are going to instead focus on her achievement and contributions to science. That said, make sure to follow some of the articles we have linked to as if you are not already familiar with this amazing woman you will be hard pressed to not be extremely impressed by all she was able to accomplish.
Wangari Maathai was born and grew up in Kenya. After showing immense aptitude at school, Maathai received a scholarship to study in America and she completed her undergraduate education by receiving a bachelor of science degree by majoring in biology at Mount St. Scholastica College (now Benedictine College) as well as a masters degree in biology from the University of Pittsburgh. Maathai then went to Germany, and eventually earned a Ph.D. which made her the first woman in east Africa to hold a doctorate.
This passion for science continued to be on display throughout Maathai’s life as she continued to protect the land she so dearly loved and to use her science background to be an advocate for both the land and her fellow citizens. Along the way Maathai continued to blaze new trails including becoming the first woman in Nairobi to be chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy as well as a number of other positions.
In terms of her love for the land she grew up on and her passion for science, eventually Wangari Maathai managed to merge the two together as she began to engage in reforestation projects to help try to bring the land of Kenya back into a healthy equilibrium. In this regard, probably her biggest achievement (and her second biggest life achievement) was through an organization called the Green Belt Movement where she assisted women in planting more than 20 million trees on their farms and on schools and church compounds.
Amazing stuff, but it gets even more amazing!
Maathai is also a Nobel Peace Prize recipient.
Maathai lived an amazing life, filled with so many unique challenges. Some of these challenges were specific to her homeland of Kenya, some were due to changing cultural and governmental dynamics and of course some of the challenges Maathai faced were unique to changing norms that were spreading across the globe as traditional male and female roles began to shift.
For us at Why Science, while we appreciate the many hardships that Maathai faced throughout her entire life, we see her story as one of inspiration and of hope. Here was a young lady with a genuine passion for the land and for science who was able to overcome formidable challenges and go on to receive a Ph.D. as well as a Nobel Prize. Talk about providing an inspiration to all of us!