Nkechi Madonna Adeleine Agwu (b. 1962)
Nkechi Madonna Adeleine Agwu is featured for her contributions to mathematics education and mathematics in business, industry, and government.
“I, Reverend Nkechi (God’s Own) Madonna Adeleine (NMA) Agwu, Ph.D., an ethno-mathematician and farmer by family tradition, complements my Even Quads biography using the innovative practice of mathematical storytelling, a procedure developed by me. This procedure uses the tools of mathematics; indigenous mathematical and philosophical knowledge systems; cultural heritage items such as games, artforms, architecture, textiles and so on to tell stories about individuals, ethnic groups and communities in a manner that will foster creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship, facilitate interest in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM), and promote equity, justice and inclusion. This practice of mathematical storytelling is reflected in my autobiography, God’s Own: The Genesis of Mathematical Story-telling by Nma (Beautiful) Jacob.
Nma (Beautiful) Jacob is a name I sometimes use for my hobbies of art, poetry, musical lyrics and other forms of writing. I am of Igbo heritage on my paternal side and Krio heritage on my maternal side. Jacob is my father’s first name. The initials of my given names NMA mean beautiful in Igbo. In ancient times in Ala Igbo (Igbo land) a child would answer their father’s first name as their last name. Hence the rationale behind my pen name Nma (Beautiful) Jacob. Besides I see myself as beautiful having been created in the like image of Chukwu (God) and called by Him. In Ala Igbo, a person’s name defines who they are. I am named Nkechi which means God’s Own.
My paternal ancestors were farmers from Agbakoli Alayi, Bende Local Government Area (LGA), Nigeria. I am a 10th generation farmer from Umu Apu (clan of Apu). I plant mathematical seeds of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship in my students, mentees and others that I associate with using the science and art of mathematical storytelling. This is in addition to my traditional agricultural enterprise as a farmer. I love to eat plantains, a traditional African food. So, my agricultural enterprise includes a plantain plantation.
I am a Founder of CHI STEM TOYS Foundation, an NGO in the United States and Nigeria, geared towards facilitating STEAM education particularly for vulnerable, underprivileged and underrepresented groups, using the practice of mathematical storytelling. I was honored in 2017 by the Chieftancy Council of Traditional Rulers of the 50 autonomous communities of Bende LGA as Chief Ada Bende (First Daughter of Bende) and as a Princess of Ihuozu Autonomous Community in Ozuitem by His Royal Highness, Eze Ihedigbo Uche of Ihuozu Autonomous Community in Ozuitem. This high honor of Chief Ada Bende was given to me for my leadership role in the work of CHI STEM TOYS in apostolic missions in partnership with Worldwide Association of Small Churches and Church of the Living God Worldwide and for facilitating STEAM, vocational and entrepreneurship education for children, women, youth and disabled people in Bende LGA, in partnership with Jacob Ukeje Agwu International Conference and Media Center and Jacob Agwu Memorial Vocational and Entrepreneurship Education Center. I received similar honors in other parts of Nigeria as Queen of Igede land and Lady Ladi Kwali Lifetime Achievement Award for my scholarship in making visible the indigenous mathematical and philosophical knowledge systems of the Igede and Gbari through my Carnegie African Diaspora Project in partnership with the National Mathematical Centre, Abuja and the apostolic missions and vocational education work of CHI STEM TOYS.
My life story can be seen in imagery on a Lady Ladi Kwali Gbari pot (images below) decorated with triangular symbolism like you will find on the columns of the Coronation Hall of the Deji’s Palace of Akure Kingdom. When I visited the Deji’s Palace of Akure as part of my ethnomathematics studies for my first Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Project in partnership with the Centre for Gender Issues in Science and Technology (CEGIST), Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), the High Priest for Akure Kingdom (who is the gatekeeper) told me I wore the Garment of Africa. In essence, he implied that my journey as an ethno-mathematician studying indigenous African mathematical and philosophical knowledge systems would shed light to significant aspects of African mathematics and philosophy that had been hidden, such as: the circular and spherical traditions and norms of the Gbari people and their kingship cycle which is an arithmetic sequence with common difference and first term seven; the traditional norms of the Igede people related to even and odd numbers where you cannot come bearing an even number of gifts at any time as it is considered a message of enslavement; the graph theory, geometric and number patterns inherent in the Ndebele lifestyle and so on.
Images of Lady Kwali Gbari pots
I love to create Ndebele dolls that represent and tell mathematical stories of successful women of African heritage in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), such as the Nigerian Women in Agricultural Research for Development (NiWARD) and the Nigerian Women in Mathematics (NWiM), two women’s organizations in Nigeria for which I am a member. I teach the Ndebele doll art to students in my writing intensive discrete mathematics classes at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York, getting them to read autobiographies of members of NiWARD and NWiM, create Ndebele dolls representing the person they read about and decorate their doll with number patterns, vertex-edge graphs, and geometric patterns based on their analysis of the autobiography of the person they read about.
I also love to play games, in particular the traditional game Okwe (Mancala). This is one of the oldest strategy games played all around the world and there are over 200 variants of the game. I play the Igbo variant known as Okwe. It was transmitted all over the world by trade and commerce, Islam and Slavery. A traditional game board is always decorated to communicate aspects of the lifestyle of the people. The game is highly mathematical and can be used to reinforce a lot of mathematical concepts. I was taught to play the game by my paternal grandmother who was an expert player. I teach students in my writing intensive discrete mathematics and introduction to statistics classes at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York how to play the game as part of their learning experiences in probability and decision making based on probability tree diagrams.
My life story reflects numerous triangles. Two of such triangles are my triangle for promoting gender equity, class equity and African cultural equity in my scholarship and my triangle as an advocate and spokeswoman for facilitating equity, justice and recognition for the Global African woman in STEM. You could give students a geometric activity to construct these two triangles as concentric equilateral triangles as is reflected on the columns of the Coronation Hall of the Deji’s Palace of Akure. I was recognized in 2020 as a Global African Woman of Distinction in STEM by the Drammeh Institute/Center and the United Nations Committee for the International Decade of Global African People.
I see myself symbolically as the infinite set of triangular numbers found on the third diagonal of the Pascal’s Triangle. We can see finite versions of this triangular sequence in the way the market women in Abuja, Nigeria, stack grapefruits and oranges on display for sale on the highways. These market women remind me of my paternal and maternal grandmothers who were petty traders, having to stack the goods they sold. Though they never had any formal education, they could do correct arithmetic computations with significant speed that always left me amazed.
At the minor age of five, Nigeria had a civil war with the South Eastern region attempting to secede to form Biafra. I was a Biafran child, a refugee of war, once homeless and dispossessed of my citizenship and birth records, and other things of sentimental value. War is never pretty. I witnessed so much death and blood from the wounded around me during that war that the trauma of this made me in my later years switch from pursuing a career in medicine as a neurosurgeon to a career in mathematics. The Nigerian/Biafran civil war reduced me to zero in the material sense and made me an internally displaced person in my homeland and a refugee in three other countries, Equatorial Guinea, Liberia and Sierra-Leone, reflecting an even cycle with four vertices and Chromatic number two in my life. People or institutions or situations can dispossess me of material or worldly things but never of my Chi (the God within me). So, in reality because I always have my Chi, I am always moving towards positive infinity like the exponential growth function. I can never be reduced to zero like the unique circular ponds in the Deji’s Palace of Akure that can never run dry even if you try dredging out all the water. I am an overcomer.
Aka Chukwu (the hand of God) orders my footsteps as an ordained minister of the Christian faith, interfaith chaplain, pastor and apostolic missionary, in addition to my other professional endeavors in the realm of STEM. In the hands of God is where I place my struggles for nothing is impossible with God – Luke 1:37. This is the reason why I am a success story and even alive today given all the struggles I had to face in life right from childhood.
I am particularly interested in how mathematics reveals the existence of The Absolute Infinite, Chukwu Okike (Almighty God). For instance, the Biblical miracle of the five loaves and two fishes that Jesus multiplied to feed over five thousand people with 12 baskets of leftovers, reflects exponential growth at work. Like Jesus did with this miracle, through my autobiography God’s Own: The Genesis of Mathematical Story-Telling we shall witness exponential growth in the use of the practice of mathematical storytelling. This is my major mathematical legacy to the world.
In addition to the references provided with my Association of Women in Mathematics Even Quads biography, you can learn more about me and my work by reading my autobiography God’s Own: The Genesis of Mathematical Story-Telling and/or visiting the following webpages for which urls have been provided below: