Meet Giewee Giah, a leading Data Scientist revolutionising STEM education in Liberia

Meet Giewee Giah, a leading Data Scientist revolutionising STEM education in Liberia
8 min read

Giewee Giah is a leading Liberian Data Scientist and Mathematician currently working in the Oil and Gas industry in the United States. She works with petroleum engineers, geophysicists and geologists, leveraging their knowledge to interpret outcomes derived from models that reveal certain behaviours and trends in Oil and Gas data. 

Giewee Giah

“My mother is one of the daughters of Paramount Chief Barsi Giah, elected by the people of the Bassa Community. He invited North American missionaries to his town,  Barsi Giah Town, where a mission school was established in the 1960s for the community’s children. Additionally, he constructed roads leading into Barsi Giah Town and worked with Liberia’s government to set up government schools and a health care system within the town.  In the 1970s an election was pending for his seat as representative for Bassa County before he passed away. Though I have lived in the USA for all of my life, I plan to continue my grandfather’s legacy by helping all of Liberia’s middle school children gain access to modern science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.”

Giewee earned her bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from Abilene Christian University and later obtained two graduate degrees in Actuarial Science (Boston University) and Predictive Analytics (Texas A&M).

  • Tell us about your initiative ‘Wahjay-STEM’. What inspired this, and what are some of the activities you run?

“Wahjay-STEM was birthed out of my aching feelings of powerlessness for the unheard and the helpless. I wanted to alleviate the burden of complaints stemming from low unemployment for underrepresented students in the professional workforce around the world. I wanted for Liberian students, specifically, to have a fighting chance at securing professional roles in their society that would offer them a living or even thriving wage compared to the labour wage that caused them to call overseas to ask for more financial support for their necessary, yet ordinary day-to-day living expenses. I wanted to make sure that more individuals could afford the opportunities that I have been able to experience. After asking my mother for a name that would make it clear that I was building an organisation that will serve people, she suggested ‘Wahjay’, meaning, for the sake of others, for the sake of the people’.

We provide training and are a third-party affiliate of the VEX Robotics curriculum for 4-8th grade students. We provide lessons in:

  • Computer coding and navigation (teachers and students)
  • Numeracy
  • Literacy
  • Critical Thinking
  • Public Speaking
  • Robot development
  • Lesson plan execution (teachers)”

Wahjay-STEM

Wahjay-STEM students at a recent Vex Robotics competition

  • What is it like being a Data Scientist in the Oil and Gas industry?

“I enjoy working as a Data Scientist and I am learning to navigate all of the professional lessons that are required to deliver dependable and cost saving projects. I have to think strategically as I work with people who are extensively experienced (over 20 years) in professions that I have to complement with the analytics applications.

I work with primarily petroleum engineers, geophysicists and geologists. I leverage their knowledge to interpret outcomes derived from models that reveal certain behavior and trends in our Oil and Gas data. I have to continue to foster trust and showcase my competency in my craft since it is one that is still not clear to my industry. I lead a small team and I am young. I have contractors that play cyclical roles in my team and a steady PhD in Geophysics. I have to be quick in my leadership, flexible in my approach, but confident in my final decisions. Being young and having a leadership role is a circus. I must play ringmaster in my own approach. You want to show respect and gain respect at the same time. I have found that sticking to the tasks at hand and listening is key to getting the information that is needed to do my job well.  When I speak on facts, consistently and frequently, I notice that I start to gain the respect of my colleagues and it is easier to get information and stronger collaboration for newer data science projects.”

  • What is it like for women in Liberia to pursue STEM?

“We, the Liberian diaspora and resident Liberians have to foster more confidence in women in Liberia regarding the area of STEM. Unfortunately, women do not have much opportunity to pursue STEM because STEM is a recent phenomenon in Liberia. Before 2016, a developed concept of what STEM is had not yet been materialised. School children, both boys and girls do not have access to STEM programs due to electricity issues, minimal access to school books, lack of internet access, and lack of funding for modern computer equipment in schools. A majority of Liberian students are intimidated by STEM topics because of a poor educational foundation that resulted from Liberia’s 20+ year war, and because teachers do not have the complete training that will allow them to introduce it in schools.

Girls in Liberia deal with familiar issues that keep them from school, such as limited finances. This results in the girl child getting pulled out of school before their elder or youngest brother is pulled out of school.

The best part about STEM programs is that the best ones require one to be tactical and detailed. Women typically thrive in the area of detail and generally outperform the boys once introduced to the concept! STEM requires students to be more verbally descriptive, which I find to be difficult for young girls. Wahjay-STEM is fostering that ability in young girls so they can become the women that can use their voice to thrive in their careers as women. A majority of Liberia’s employment opportunity is limited to manual labour, work in the street market, and there are few office jobs available for their academic/training experience in STEM. Therefore, it is difficult for women, and even men, to pursue careers in STEM in Liberia. Women in Liberia need more confidence.”

  • What difference would you like to make in Liberia?

“I would like for robotics to be the foundational tool for all students in all levels of education. All over the world. I am excited for Wahjay-STEM because the work that we have been doing has been featured in front of the current Vice President of Liberia, Jewel and the First Lady, Clar Weah.

Giewee with her Wahjay-STEM students

I would like for the Ministry of Education to adopt the curriculum and make it standard for all middle school students so that I can move the program into Liberian High Schools. We are currently in talks with countries such as Jamaica and Senegal to have Wahjay-STEM appear there.

What I would like to see are confident students that are competent in reading, writing and STEM topics. This will only happen when we start to implement a standard in teacher training and stay consistent in encouraging critical thinking in the classroom. I would like to see Liberia’s educated be able to compete with the best educated in the world for job creation, product invention, and professional careers.”

  • Any advice for young women looking up to you?

“Stop waiting for your hero. You have what it takes to be your own hero. Make sure that when you ask for help, you position yourself as an investment and not a charity. Prioritize building confidence when no one is watching, so that when you are on stage, you have the confidence you need to conquer all your fears.”