Adamaka Ajaelo, MBA ’10 has learned to solve many life challenges by approaching them like she would a math problem: persistently and step-by-step. One of the most important challenges she has taken on is making sure more young women of color have access to careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—known as STEM ﬁelds.
By early childhood, Ajaelo and her siblings were encouraged to explore STEM subjects by their chemical engineer father, who went as far as to give them math and physics lessons at home. Ajaelo engaged in activities such as building structures out of Lego blocks, taking computers apart to understand how they worked and participating in science camps and math Olympiads. For a young Ajaelo, the world of STEM was never foreign territory.
A proud product of Oakland public schools, where she says she thrived, Ajaelo was surprised to meet resistance as she transitioned from high school to college. There, she discovered a lack of support not only for her pursuit of a STEM education, but for others with similar ambitions. Says Ajaelo: “I heard from too many women that they dreamed of being a programmer or a scientist but didn’t have the support to enter and remain in the STEM career pathway.”
This led her to found Self-eSTEM in 2014. The Oakland-based organization promotes STEM opportunities for young girls and women from Bay Area communities she considers untapped and underserved. Its holistic, school- to-career pipeline programs reach over 150 participants annually. Its aim? Demystify STEM and introduce lessons through a culturally and gender-inclusive lens. “It’s never a skill and capability issue,” says Ajaelo about the challenge many girls face in building STEM competency. “It’s a lack of encouragement and access.”
Finding community support
The program has enjoyed success, in terms of outcomes and community engagement. Ajaelo has developed supportive, strategic partnerships with organizations that include: Visa, Salesforce, Facebook, Workday, Wells Fargo, PG&E, Autodesk, Kapor Center for Social Impact, Golden State Warriors, Fam 1st Family Foundation, and Oakland Uniﬁed School District.
The best measure of effectiveness? Positive experiences recounted by Self-eSTEM participants themselves. As one student reports: “I didn’t think I was good at math. I didn’t think I was smart enough. I had anxiety with my math homework. But you exposed me to math from a different perspective, showing me how it connects to our everyday world. I have a new interest. My anxiety went away.”
Leveraging HNU’s MBA program
After completing her bachelor’s degree in math, Ajaelo considered pursuing a Master’s of Science in applied mathematics. A mentor counseled her to get an MBA instead, arguing it would enhance her versatility and skill at problem-solving from a business perspective. Ajaelo acted on the advice and happily found it to be true: “My HNU professors prepared me to be a consultant in any type of corporate environment. No matter what the framework, I was prepared to problem solve.” By the time she completed the master’s program, she had gained the conﬁdence and knowledge to launch Self-eSTEM.
Ajaelo’s past professional experiences have taken her to top companies such as Kaiser Permanente, Cisco Systems, Visa, and Workday in the areas of ﬁnance, workforce planning and analytics, and business continuity.
Today, she works as a manager for Insights and Operations at Facebook, where she focuses on recruiting analytics. Noting that human capital is the largest investment most companies make, Ajaelo describes the role of human resources analytics as a powerful contribution to a corporation. When not at her “day job,” Ajaelo continues thriving on powerfully and exponentially investing in young human capital: igniting curiosity, excitement, and inspiration in untapped communities that she expects will lead to the next generation of STEM leaders.