How PWSAfrica started.
Updated: Jan 18
Author : Sofiat Olaosebikan
In December 2017, I was drawing out plans for the coming year, and one of them was to visit my family in Nigeria… but then I thought to myself, what if, during this visit, I go to my home university (University of Ibadan, Nigeria) and pass on some knowledge. Immediately, the thought of teaching programming for scientific computing popped to my mind. The reason for this choice is majorly because the teaching of programming lanaguage is not heavily included in the science and engineering curriculum at the University, and given that my continent (Africa) needs skilled scientific programmers to drive forward much of its economy, there is an urgent need to fill this gap. But then I thought to myself again… What if this programming training could be run annually? What if it could be expanded to different Univerisities in Africa?… I basically came up with lots of what if’s that would maximise the benefit of this initiative.
At this point, I had the big picture but very little idea on how best to proceed, so I decided to meet with Heather Lambie (my non-academic PhD Advisor). Heather listened to me talk on and on about my exciting idea, and this was very helpful because the more I talked about it, the more it became clearer. Finally, she gave me a couple of suggestions, one of which was to discuss the idea further with Jeremy Singer, a Senior Lecturer at the School of Computing Science. Immediately, I booked an appointment with Jeremy. My meeting with Jeremy was very fruitful. In fact, I remember being overwhelmed by his support and the range of suggestions he offered. One of his suggestions that I immediately took forward was to design a survey that would capture the interest of potential participants at my home University and their level of programming expertise.
Given how things were panning out, I thought it would be wise to get more people on board, so I discussed my world-changing idea with Benjamin Bumpus and Craig Reilly (my office colleagues). They were very excited and even suggested that they would love to travel to Nigeria with me to deliver the training. I remember telling them “calm down guys… we currently have no support from the School, and most importantly we have no travel funds.” Immediately, they suggested a long list of funding bodies that we could send an application for sponsorship. Well, first things first, I had to communicate my intentions to a few lecturers at the Department of Mathematics, University of Ibadan. I sent over a link to the survey which they advertised among the students and staff. When we started receiving the survey results, our desire to run the programming training grew even stronger – this is because 90% of the over 100 participants that filled the survey have no knowledge of programming, and they were very motivated to learn it.
Ben, Craig and I are very passionate about programming, and all we could think of was sharing the knowledge with these enthusiastic minds. However, given the number of interested participants, we had to recruit other people who shares our passion for teaching programming within the School. For these reasons, we approached Fionnuala Johnson and William Tom Wallis – they both said YES with lots of excitement on their face. While I was briefing Tom, Fatma Elsafoury was passing by, she heard what we were talking about and came to meet me afterwards. Fatma said “Sofiat, I want to be part of the team you’re putting together for the programming workshop in Africa. In fact, I don’t mind using my personal funds to cover my travel expenses”. I was overwhelemed! … and this was how the PWSAfrica team was formed.
After a couple of meetings, we collated the survey results into a proposal, which we forwarded to the School of Computing Science to seek the School’s official support. At the same time, we were also applying for grants from various funding bodies. Fortunately for us, the School was delighted to hear about the initiative and offered us their full support.