Remarks by Ambassador Palmer at Opening of 2017 WiSci Girls STEAM Camp

July 30, 2017

  • Professor Address Malata, Vice Chancellor of the Malawi University of Science and Technology
  • Ladies and Gentleman
  • Campers!

I am truly excited to join you all today at the opening ceremony of the 2017 WiSci STEAM Camp.   We’ve been working to make this camp a reality in Malawi for more than a year and I am just thrilled that the opening day is finally here!

I am so happy to see all the girls here today – many of you have traveled from distant places such as Liberia, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia, the United States, and from all corners of Malawi!  You were chosen from over 1,100 applicants for the 100 available slots at this year’s camp.  Give yourselves a hand!  You were selected because you have demonstrated strong interest in the STEAM fields, as well as outstanding engagement in your communities.  You also expressed an interest in cross-cultural learning experiences.  These traits will be key as you build a community with inspiring girls from around the globe.  We’re so glad you’re here!  This camp is going to be such a formative experience for you all.

I would like to start my formal remarks today by thanking our host, the Malawi University of Science and Technology, as well as the Government of Malawi.  This lovely campus provides the venue for a truly inspiring learning experience.  Thank you, Vice Chancellor Malata, and your great MUST team for partnering with us to make this camp happen.  Dr. Malata is a fantastic role model herself, a leader in health and science, as a trade union, and head of a major university.

  • I’d also like to thank all of our outstanding partners who travelled all the way to Malawi for the WiSci STEAM camp: our founding partners, the United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up Campaign and Intel Corporation, who have been with WiSci from the beginning,
  • our sustaining partner Google, and
  • all our other great partners who have helped to make WiSci 2017 possible, including:
    • the American Society for Microbiology, and
    • the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Thanks, too, to our implementing partner, World Learning, which is overseeing the programming and logistics for WiSci 2017.

The United States and our partners here believe that empowering adolescent girls and young women to be leaders today in their schools and communities will lead to stronger, smarter, and safer communities and nations in the future.

The WiSci STEAM camp seeks to build the skills for each of you to not only excel as scientists, but also to grow as leaders.

Our last two camps were in Peru and Rwanda, and the stories we’ve heard from the campers of their experiences have been amazing.  So far, we have had 220 girls from 15 countries across North and South America and Sub-Saharan Africa participate in WiSci.  Many of the campers learned about careers and opportunities in the STEAM fields that they didn’t know about before the camp, and all the girls learned new skills.  My friend, the U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda, told me to make sure to attend both the Camp’s opening and closing ceremonies.  First, she said, you’ll love hearing the girls talk about their projects and you’ll love seeing for yourself the impact that the camp has even between day one and day 14.  We hope your experience will be as positive and transformative as participants of the Rwanda and Peru camps.

This camp aims to help bridge the global gender gap in the STEAM fields.  STEAM fields are not just for men.  More and more women are pursuing their dreams in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and you can as well.

Over the next two weeks you will meet some very inspiring Malawian women, including:

  • Malawi’s First Lady Gertrude Mutharika
  • Captain Yolanda Ndala-Kaunda, Malawi’s first female airline captain, who earlier this year led the historic all-female operated and supported Malawian Airlines flight, only the second one in the world.
  • Mandela Washington Fellow Halima Twabi, who founded a local organization called “Malawi Girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math” which helps local young women to pursue studies and careers in the STEAM fields.

You will also be mentored by a real-life former American astronaut, Leland Melvin!  What a fantastic opportunity!  Leland now spends his days back here on Earth inspiring young people to pursue careers in the STEAM fields.  Leland overcame societal barriers to do great things and now he aims to show others who think they cannot be astronauts or engineers that anything is possible, no matter their gender or ethnicity.

You’ll have an opportunity to learn from representatives of some of America’s leading technology companies, who are volunteering their time and expertise over the next two weeks because they are passionate about molding the next generation of female STEAM professionals.

There are ten WiSci Camp counselors here to support you from each of the participating countries.  Thank you, Counselors, for supporting these girls during the camp and for your example.

Because I will speak only briefly at the closing ceremony, I want to share a few tips which my mentors passed on to me and which I think are important to hold onto, particularly if you confront discrimination or bias:

  • First, don’t be afraid to fail. Adversity is unavoidable; how you overcome challenges is more personally defining than achievement. It isn’t failing that determines your character or even your success, it’s your ability get up and try again.  And, indeed, from those attempts will come real innovation and learning.
  • Second, have integrity. Tell the truth, always. Stand for something.  Give others the space to do the same.
  • Third, dress and behave for the job you want, not necessarily the one you’re in now.
  • Fourth, you don’t always need to lead from the front. Persuasion, particularly in horizontal structures or intellectual debates, can be more important than a big title or a chain of command.
  • And, finally never doubt your power to make a difference. My favorite quotation is one from American anthropologist Maraget Mead:  she said “never doubt that a small group of individuals can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Again, let me congratulate all of the campers on your selection for the 2017 WiSci STEAM Camp.  The next two weeks will be inspirational, transformational, and most likely exhausting!  Take full advantage of the opportunity.  Get involved.   Reinvent yourself.  Soak it all in.  Learn.  Lead.  Make connections and relationships that will last your lifetime.  Help each other to shine.

I’ll be back at the end of the camp to meet with you at the closing ceremony.  I hope you take the experience and memories you make at this camp and use them to fuel your ambitions and to create your own success story—whatever that means to you.  I look forward to hearing about the many great things you all are going to accomplish not only during this camp, but in your studies, careers, and lives over the years to come.

Zikomo kwambiri.