ALA Alumna Cynthia Okoye ‘14 Wins Bill Gates Sr. Prize

African Leadership Academy Alumna Cynthia Okoye has been awarded the Bill Gates Sr. Prize in recognition of her outstanding research and social leadership. She received the award last month with two other scholars. The award was established in honor of the father of billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates.

Cynthia is currently studying a PhD in pharmacology at Cambridge University, and won in part for her research work, but also for her passion for advancing science in Africa. She’s a cofounder of the Africa in STEM network at Cambridge, which highlights scientific contributions by Africans in STEM and providing avenues to connect, share ideas and collaborate. She has also been actively involved with the African Society at Cambridge.

https://twitter.com/BillGates/status/1533168514789347329?cxt=HHwWgsCojYSp9MYqAAAA

“African science and scientists still face major barriers in terms of entering the field, and having to combat structural racism on their journey,” she says. The networks she’s helped found are an important tool in building pathways for African scientists.

“For scientists based in the African continent, lack of funding is often cited as a major barrier. To address this, it will be important for African governments, donors, and investors to prioritize scientific research. There are also other barriers such as irregular power supply, limited access to lab reagents and consumables etc. that would need to be tackled,” she says.

But once Black African scientists make it into their respective fields, they often face systemic racial inequality, which is a major barrier. She cites a recent report by the Royal Society of Chemistry, there are no Black chemistry professors in the UK, and fewer than 1% of principal investigators in science subjects are Black people.

She has worked as a research fellow at SUNY Upstate Medical University at Syracuse, N.Y., and at the National Institute of Health in Rockville, Md, and has also taught high school science in the United States and Nigeria.

Cynthia Okoye ‘14

“However, there is hope,” says Cynthia. “I am a strong advocate for mentorship, and I actively participate in multiple mentorship programs! Mentorship is great, but we must always remember that mentorship is not going to address the systemic problems at hand. There will need to be adequate policies put in place to bridge these gaps. But things are shifting. The increase in global connectedness through online platforms has been a key player in the changing landscape around these issues. I am hopeful that 10 or 20 years from now, there would be noticeable positive changes.”

Cynthia obtained her A-Levels in biology and chemistry at ALA in 2014, before going on to a B.A. with Hons in Chemistry with a concentration in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Williams College, MA, U.S.A. In 2018, she was awarded a Bill Gates Cambridge Scholarship and is now pursuing a PhD in Pharmacology at Cambridge University, where she researches how disease-causing organisms attack the body, to further inform rational drug and therapy design.

She has worked as a research fellow at SUNY Upstate Medical University at Syracuse, N.Y., and at the National Institute of Health in Rockville, Md, and has also taught high school science in the United States and Nigeria.

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