By Andrew Wight | Forbes
Not only has Adji Bousso Dieng, an AI researcher from Senegal, contributed to the field of generative modeling and about to become one of the first black female faculty in Computer Science in the Ivy League, she is also helping Africans in STEM tell their own success stories.
Dieng, who is currently a researcher at Google and an incoming computer science faculty at Princeton, works in an area of Artificial Intelligence called generative modeling.
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“It allows you to learn from data without needing any supervision,” she said, “Generative models have many real-world applications with regard to natural language processing, computer vision, healthcare, robotics, and in a range of sciences.”
In addition to this, Dieng started The Africa I Know (TAIK), a platform that showcases Africans who’ve had successful careers; highlight how Africans are leveraging technology to solve developmental problems –in agriculture, health and education– and narrate African history as told by Africans.
“I founded TAIK to unearth the success stories of Africa and its people and to foster an economic and social consciousness in Africa,” she said, adding that TAIK’s volunteers are a group of eager and young Africans coming from every region of the continent and that the content is in both English and French.
Dieng says the COVID-19 crisis accelerated her launch plans for TAIK because Several African countries have adopted technology to fight the COVID-19 virus, and successfully so, but this has been overlooked in the media.
“The success stories are not told: the majority of people don’t know much about Africa and hold a negative view of the continent given how it is portrayed in the media,” she said, “This negative view of Africa has significant repercussions on Africa and its people.”
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Dieng was born and raised in Kaolack, a sparsely populated region in Senegal, where her mother enrolled her in Kaolack’s public school system. Although Dieng’s mother didn’t finish high school, she understood the value of education.
After winning a competition organized for African girls in STEM by the Pathfinder Foundation for Education and Development, Dieng was awarded a scholarship to study abroad. Dieng went on to study in France and earned an engineering degree from Telecom ParisTech in France and a Master in Statistics by Cornell University in the United States.
Dieng says that it is very important to have black, female representation in academia.
“I have never had a Black lecturer ever since I left Senegal, let alone a Black woman lecturer,” she said, “I have learned to not let that demotivate me in my pursuit for knowledge, but it’s a lot to ask everyone to do.”
Dieng says she got excited because one day she looked up the name behind a statistics theorem called the Rao-Blackwell theorem, when she was a first year PhD student at Columbia University.
“I looked up who the authors of the theorem were and I was beyond ecstatic to learn that Blackwell was Black!” she said, “I had finally found a Black scientist behind one of these theorems!”
This Blackwell was David Blackwell, the first African American to secure tenure at UC Berkeley and the first to be inducted into the US National Academy of Sciences.
“It’s important to have role models, role models that look like you and representation matters, for it gives hope and courage to pursue one’s endeavors,” Dieng said, “That’s one reason behind why I created The Africa I Know, to give young Africans career role models they can look up to.”
Dieng is far from the only African woman bringing together the next generation of STEM leaders. In South Africa, Mbali Hlongwane, founded Pink Codrs Africa, which teamed up with South African soccer team, Kaizer Chiefs Football Club to get more African women coding and into STEM careers.
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Hlongwane says Pink Codrs Africa is an organisation of female software developers which grew out of a series of networking events for female software developers. It aims to build a strong network of female software developers in South Africa, bringing together industry software developers, women in technology businesses and STEM students.
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