Oiza Olowojoba (2011 Commonwealth Scholar from Nigeria, MSc Geographical Information Systems, University of Leeds) is the only female staff member of the University of Benin’s Department of Geography and Regional Planning teaching Geographic Informational Systems (GIS). Oiza has been using her position to encourage more female students to work in this area and to consider scientific careers.
Oiza is also the only staff member invited to assess postgraduates’ GIS examination scripts at the Centre of Excellence in Geosciences and Petroleum Engineering (CEGPE). The CEGPE is funded by Shell Nigeria and aims to strengthen the workforce in the oil industry. As well as improving employee skills, Oiza’s work contributes to an important aspect of the Nigerian economy. Crude oil makes up over 90% of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings.
The CEGPE aims to lessen dependence on international sources of expertise. The CEGPE strengthens the Nigerian industry skillbase, selecting students with the most potential, who then receive full funding as well as training and employment opportunities. Oiza oversees these students as they gain first-hand experience of the capabilities of GIS tools. Oiza values the CEGPE as a way to contribute in practical terms to the development of future leaders in the oil industry. Studying GIS technology helps students learn how to answer a variety of environmental questions and aids in effective policy decision making.
Certain GIS courses at the University of Benin are also taught by Shell staff and lecturers. The University also hosted a GIS analyst from the Centre for Population and Environmental Development (CPED). In the first seminar of its kind, a CPED representative demonstrated the prospects GIS can offers for future research and employment. Oiza is a junior research fellow at the CPED due to her knowledge of the GIS discipline.
Oiza is actively working to widen the technologies utilised by staff and students at her university. It is as a result of Oiza’s studies at the University of Leeds that she has been able to strengthen departmental capacity in the field. For the first time her students can research GIS with access to projectors and personal laptops. Also, Oiza is spearheading the opening of the first GIS laboratory at the university. She has also noted an increase in registration for courses in GIS certification. In March 2013 she joined a committee reviewing the GIS curriculum and teaching methods. The University of Benin is also offering more courses in Remote Sensing and Health Geography to reflect contemporary development issues.
Oiza is using her expertise to improve research in the area of GIS, and to educate future scientists. She is currently supervising five undergraduate students who are studying GIS and Remote Sensing in their research projects. She has attended conferences and published papers showcasing the research she conducted while at the University of Leeds.
Improving the education opportunities for women is an important aspect of Oiza’s academic career. ‘I have a passion for the education and development of girls. From my personal experience, I know education remains the best moderating factor against women facing poverty and gender discrimination.’
Keen to continue developing her own expertise, Oiza has been applying to PhD programmes for the 2014/2015 session. Oiza hopes that this will help her encourage more female students to work in science. ’For Nigeria, and indeed Africa to develop, then targeting the female population is important. Even more relevant to Africa’s development is encouraging girls to take up technical roles that will meet our future development challenges.’