September 24, 2021

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Start-up founder Mary-Brenda shares how learning can empower you to discover a world without limits

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Meet Mary-Brenda! She is an entrepreneur and founder of a social impact start-up focused on expanding access to affordable, clean energy throughout Nigeria. She is also a lifelong learner with ambitious academic goals and a thirst for new skills and knowledge that she can apply to make a positive impact in the world. She ultimately decided that she wanted to earn a degree, and with the benefit of a stellar academic record, she was accepted to many universities in the UK. However, she didn’t want to leave her social impact start-up to pursue her studies abroad. She found the ideal solution in the online Bachelor of Computer Science program offered by Goldsmiths, University of London. After seeing the program’s combination of quality, affordability, and flexibility, she felt like it was made for her. In her story below, she shares her passion for social good, her excitement around transformative new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and virtual reality (VR), and her vision for how she can take what she’s learning to scale her impact. 

I first came across Coursera when I heard about the University of London’s Virtual Reality Specialization. Through enrolling in those courses, I began to learn about machine learning and artificial intelligence––two subjects that really caught my attention. This technology cuts across so many sectors and I read amazing stories of people using AI and ML to improve people’s lives. There’s one man in Kenya who invented smart gloves that allow people who are mute to turn sign language gestures into audio speech. This opened up a world of possibilities for me and made me start imagining how much change and impact I could make with the right skills and technology. 

My core values have always been service, family, and excellence. I am motivated by the desire to improve the lives of others—that’s why I founded Grassroot Solar in the first place. We’re helping to provide affordable, clean energy to people in Nigeria. These same values are why I wanted to earn a degree, and I included that in my application. I want to learn new skills and apply them to improve people’s lives.

I saw the degree program as the best possible way I could expand my capabilities in order to create more impact in the world and in my community. I’m not afraid of hard work. I really don’t care what it requires as long as it gives me the capability to accomplish amazing things—anything from curing diseases to solving the energy crisis. Once I see the end game and I see that it’s going to lead to change for the world, for communities, for Africa, I’m down with it and excited to learn whatever skills, knowledge, or tools necessary in order to make it happen.

To be honest, I never saw myself in computer science, but after discovering and learning about AI and ML, and then eventually enrolling in the degree program, I knew I had found my next calling. I’m loving the program. I’m realizing things I never thought I could accomplish. I learned about data visualization and created a map that visualizes COVID-19 cases around the world. In our first semester, I built a 2D game and learned how to build websites. I also recently built a bot for a cryptocurrency trading simulation, and I’m now applying machine learning to literary analysis.

I feel good about this decision to enroll in the bachelor’s program because I’m discovering things I didn’t think I was capable of, things that if I didn’t decide to go on this journey, I would never have known.

I can really feel my perspective changing. I’m thinking about how I can use what I’ve learned to solve problems on a global scale. And, even as I’m discovering what’s possible for myself, I’m also thinking of how girls in my community can also get on board with CS and AI. I’m a big advocate for helping girls see themselves in computer science. We need more women in tech, but we don’t have many girls even thinking of CS as a possibility—it’s not an option that gets mentioned to you when you’re a girl. 

Sometimes I have to caution myself to stop seeing the barriers and to stop limiting myself––it’s hard. There’s no difference between boys and girls when it comes to intellectual matters, and you can’t keep limiting yourself. If you do, you’ll never discover what you could have been or could have gone on to achieve. So I encourage girls everywhere to take that step, explore the world of computer science, and discover the possibilities for themselves.

For myself, I just keep discovering something new all the time. I’m excited to share that I recently got a six-month software engineering internship offer from Microsoft! I’m hoping that I’ll learn a lot from that experience and be better positioned to more specifically identify those overlooked, challenging, real-world problems where I can apply my skills, knowledge, and experience.

Thank you Mary-Brenda, for sharing your story! We can’t wait to see where your learning takes you next, and we look forward to seeing all the amazing ways you’re going to keep making positive contributions in the world!

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