INSPIRING BAHAMIAN

Featuring - D'ANDRE WILSON-IHEJIRIKA

D’Andre Wilson-Ihejirika is the Founder, President and Lead Program Consultant at BrainSTEM Alliance (https://brainstemalliance.com) a non-profit consulting company specializing in curriculum and program development in the areas of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) as well as leadership and entrepreneurship. 


D’Andre was born and raised in Nassau, Bahamas, before moving to Canada to pursue a degree in Chemical Engineering at McGill University. D’Andre subsequently completed a Master’s Degree from the Centre for Management of Technology and Entrepreneurship at the University of Toronto before moving to Fort McMurray (Alberta, Canada) to pursue a career with Suncor Energy in the oil sands industry. 


D’Andre sits on the organizing committee for the Wood Buffalo Regional Science fair and is the co-founder of non-profit organization BETA (Bahamas Engineering and Technology Advancement) which hosts summer technology and engineering camps for Bahamian students. D’Andre is also a previous finalist in the Bahamas Ministry of Youth, Sports & Culture’s National Entrepreneurship Competition for her social enterprise Ziri Bags & Accessories. 


D’Andre has been the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions including the 2011 Centre for Social Innovation Agent of Change, 2012 GIrls Inc. Women of Inspiration Award, 2013 Alberta Venture Next 10 Influential People, 2013 Heart of Wood Buffalo Newcomer Engagement Award and the 2017 YMM Magazine Top 50 Under 50 Award.

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Q & A WITH D'ANDRE WILSON-IHEJIRIKA

1. What inspired you to pursue a career in your field? I was a bit of a ‘geek’ in school and I loved math and science. Many thought I would become a doctor, but I wanted to do something a little bit different and decided not to pursue medicine. I’d heard that engineers also used science and math so I thought it would be an interesting field to study. Engineering has had its ups and downs but I enjoy it a lot and I’m so glad I stumbled into it. 


2. Why is your profession/field of study important? Engineering is important because engineers design things. We have to use knowledge and creativity to solve problems every day. Almost everything you come into contact with on a daily basis; your car, your phone, your house, even the soap you use to bathe or the medicine you take when you are sick, engineers have been involved in creating those things. 


3. Did you have a mentor or coach who helped or encouraged you to pursue your dreams?

I wouldn’t say I’ve had a specific mentor, but I’ve definitely had people who have inspired and encouraged me. My parents of course, who pushed me and my siblings to excel academically while also encouraging us to do extra-curricular activities like art and sports. This taught me how to multi-task and prioritize at an early age. They also lead by example and instilled in us the importance of respecting everyone and giving back to the community through their own community service. 

Now as an adult I am encouraged and inspired by those in my circles. Women in leadership at my job have given me advice in my career and some of my own previous classmates have shown me opportunities I hadn’t considered before. I have learned to try and connect with people who have similar mindsets as myself because interacting with them continues to encourage me to pursue my dreams and passions.   


4. Did you encounter any obstacles along your path to this point? 

As a woman in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), I am in a profession that is dominated by men. In addition, I am also one of very few black women in STEM. Being a minority definitely has its challenges, people make assumptions about you and there is a constant need to prove yourself. It can be very frustrating at times, so finding a community of people can be helpful and staying focused on why I love engineering keeps me driven and determined to continue moving forward.


5. What was the most amazing experience you have had so far? This is a difficult question as I’ve had so many amazing experiences, from being able to intern in Finland for a summer, to getting to be in leadership of one of the largest student-run organizations, NSBE (the National Society of Black Engineers). I think one of the most amazing experiences has been moving to Fort McMurray to work in the oil sands. Not only have I been able to start and grow my career as an engineer, I have also had the opportunity to start social enterprises, engage in the community and interact with so many different types of people that I hadn’t had exposure to before. It has been a huge adjustment to the cold weather, but living and working in Fort McMurray has definitely opened my eyes to different perspectives and afforded me incredible opportunities.

6. What is your favorite written work (book/quote/poem etc) and why?

I love fantasy novels! As I said, I’m a bit of a geek, but I love being a geek! And I love fantasy because the writers look at the world from a different perspective. There is a saying that science fiction is the pre-cursor for science-fact, if we can imagine the impossible we can make it possible. I love fantasy because it is full of imagination! I also love fantasy novels because they almost always center on a hero/heroine trying to save the world, and I am a big believer that one person can change the world.


7. What do you think is the most important issue facing the world today?  Education. I believe education is so important because education opens our minds to new possibilities and equips us with the tools to survive. There are definitely some flaws in our education system but I think there is huge value in just attending an educational institution and meeting new people, sharing ideas and learning together. Ensuring access to education for everyone is important and ensuring those in our education system are actually learning and benefitting from the system is key.


8. Please complete this sentence. “If I could change the world, I would…..”

I would ensure that everyone had access to quality education so they could pursue their dreams and passions and make a difference in the world.


9. What three words of advice would you offer to any student as they consider their future?

Imagination, Passion, Determination 


See D'Andre featured in the below links: 

2013 Women of Inspiration video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNQc5Y1R-zU

2015 BETA Camp video: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jGrZQezu8c&t= 

2017 Top 50 under 50 article: https://yourmcmurraymagazine.com/features/2017-top-50-under-50/2129/d-andre-wilson-ihejirika


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The INSPIRE Group thanks D'Andre Wilson-Ihejirika for exemplifying excellence and being an inspiration to others.  D'Andre, we believe that you, as a young woman in STEM, can encourage other young Bahamians, especially young girls, to pursue those studies that are key to innovation, productivity and efficiency, that identify practical solutions to pressing problems, and lead to the advancement of society in general.   Thank you! 

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