2013 AWM Essay Contest: Undergraduate Level Winner
By: Joy Otobo, Benue State University, Kaduna, Nigeria
In developing nations such as Nigeria, where gender equality and women’s rights are still foreign concepts, female/girl child educational endowment is often relegated to the abyss. It is normal to find few girls in schools and even fewer enrolling for courses such as medicine, law, computer science and the “almighty mathematics” which is feared by even the men. It is therefore a rare sight to see a young female mathematician such as Mrs. Mary-Anne Msuur Shior, who enjoys and derives great pleasure from teaching mathematics.
She was born in the balmy town of Makurdi, the capital of Benue State, on the 24th of March, 1984 to Mr. and Mrs. David Ijuh. The fourth child in a family of five children, she grew up in an average income family where there was just enough of anything to go around and waste wasn’t encouraged. She attended Saint Theresa Primary School, Makurdi, where she grew in strength and wisdom and shone bright in every subject, outdoing both the boys and the girls in her class. She said that mathematics was her favorite subject at the time because of her teacher, Mr. Hakaan, who laid a good foundation and taught with a vigour and steadfastness lacking in most of today’s teachers. After completing her primary school education, she enrolled at Aveco Model School, Makurdi, where she represented and distinguished herself even with limited resources at the Annual Cowbell Mathematics Competition, Junior Category, in her JSS 2. Although she wasn’t the grand prize winner, she brought great honor and recognition to her school as this is the biggest mathematics competition in the country to date. After the completition of her junior secondary education at Aveco Model School, she enrolled at Special Science Senior Secondary School, Makurdi, where she once more represented them at the Annual Cowbell Mathematics Competition, Senior Category.
With all these encounters with mathematics, one would naturally assume that she would choose a career in mathematics, but that wasn’t the case with her: she had set her interest in the medical field and was determined to become a Medical Doctor. She therefore put all her energy into studying and graduated her secondary school the top of her class in the year 2001. Her love for medicine was given impetus by the newly constructed medical school (under the administration of the governor of the state, Mr. George Akume) which came to be known as the Benue State University College of Medicine, but as fate would have it, the commissioning was delayed. This prompted Mrs. Shior to seek remedial admission in the sciences, a program meant to prepare one for a proper degree admission at the same university. While her focus was still medicine, her outstanding performance in mathematics during her remedial earned her placement in the school’s Mathematics Department. Although she was skeptical about the course, parental advice and a zeal to face challenges and make a difference spurred her into accepting the admission for BSc Mathematics.
According to Mrs. Shior, hard work and perseverance kept her going because there were times when she was overwhelmed by the departmental challenges. Her strongest point and one of the reasons for her success was her unquenchable desire to know more, which prompted her to always ask questions. She remembers attending a lot of tutorials organized by her fellow course mates and asking them to help clarify some confusing formulas. She graduated at the top of her class of thirty five, only five of whom were girls, thereby helping to erase the misconception that girls are not good in mathematics. Immediately after her graduation, she married her fiancé Mr. Shior who coincidentally has a PhD in literature. She laughs when she tells me how he is always trying to make her drop her pen and pick up a novel which she has no interest in reading, preferring instead to unravel the mysteries in mathematical problems, watch inspirational movies or listen to gospel songs in her spare time. They have an adorable girl together. She recalls how she had to wait a year at home after graduation like the rest of her mates but instead of sitting at home idle, she got a job teaching at a community secondary school in Makurdi. It was then that she discovered she had talent and love for teaching as she enjoys seeing that light-bulb come on in the eyes of her students when they finally understand a concept. At the end of that year, the school was inspected by the National Teachers Association of Nigeria and with their recommendation she was awarded the best teacher of the year prize.
She went for her mandatory one-year Youth Service from November 2007 to September 2008, and in November of that year she was offered a lecturing position in the Mathematics Department of her former University due to her excellent performance while a student there. She accepted and became the first Mathematics lecturer at the University. Mrs. Shior did her master’s program in the mathematical modeling of malaria at the University of Agriculture (UA), Makurdi. She chose this because she wanted to do something in mathematics that has practical application to her community. She hopes to do her PhD outside the country but cannot at the moment because this will require her to be away from her family for a long time and she cannot afford the cost of regular visit for her family. She hopes to get a scholarship that will lessen the overall cost. She acknowledges this as one of the many challenges career women face across the globe.
Although the fourth child, and a female one for that matter, she was the first in her family to get a degree. This shows that we can rise above societal limitations and cultural boundaries to be the best that we can be. She advises young girls interested in mathematical careers to be hard working and ambitious. That unlike the humanities, mathematics is straight forward. You can know how well you have done in an exam even before the result is out by your personal evaluation. She enjoys the prestige and recognition she gets when she introduces herself as a Mathematician.
About the Student:
My name is Joy Otobo. I am currently doing a major in psychology at Benue State University, Makurdi, Nigeria. Statistics, a branch of mathematics, is one of my compulsory courses and I enjoy it immensely. When I came across this essay topic, I was excited because it is the perfect opportunity for me to help shine some light on the achievements of this great mathematician whom I admire a lot, Mrs. Mary-Anne Shior.