Being the only girl in a class of 44 boys has never discouraged Julienne Umuhoza. A student at IPRC - Huye campus, in the department of civil engineering (specialising in content surveying), Umuhoza always dreamed of becoming an engineer, therefore, when she was done with high school, she was determined to pursue her dream. “In high school my major was construction, but it was tough because not many people understood how a girl could pick an interest in construction,” she says. “We were very few girls in the class and the boys doubted us. When I joined university I was the only girl and people kept doubting me, but my determination was even stronger.” ALSO READ: Girls in STEM: Celebrating gains and tackling challenges Today, Umuhoza is the best in her class and the one who explains to her peers and demonstrates how things are done where they fail to understand. For Gaelle Niyigena Ikirezi, studying electrical and electronic engineering is major motivation—being one of the few girls in the department despite people’s discouragement. “We are very few girls in our department, many fear the course because they think it is meant for boys. But I believe that any course can be done by anyone, and it is the motivation for me to aim even higher,” she says. According to statistics from the Ministry of Education (MINEDUC), in 2020, 66 per cent of male students and 51 per cent of female students in advanced secondary education were enrolled in STEM programmes (as a total, across general, technical, and vocational education). In tertiary education, 51 per cent of male students and 32 per cent of female students were enrolled in STEM fields. ALSO READ: One woman’s journey to mastering tech, empowering girls in STEM According to Prof Sam Yala, the president of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) in Rwanda, to encourage more girls to join STEM, educators in general (including teachers and parents) play a key role. “One example for teachers is to use gender-responsive pedagogy. Activities such as mentorship at school by female students or female scientists can also help girls envision themselves in STEM studies and careers,” he says. Yala adds that STEM studies can be demanding but they are also rewarding in terms of job opportunities. He says, “There is no magic recipe to be successful, but if one existed, it would definitely include ingredients like passion, commitment, and work.” ALSO READ: FEATURED: STEMpower urges girls, women to embrace STEM education Rose Ruhamo, in the department of Information Communication Technology at IPRC, was in a male-dominated class and was constantly looked down on by her classmates because they thought she could never be able to do what they could do. “Being doubted by my classmates would give me a boost to show them that I can, especially when it came to coding, many of my classmates always thought that it is not a course for girls, but I was determined to show them that I can also code and be better than them,” she says. Ruhamo, adds that she is determined to be an IT developer, and wants to prove to people that a girl can design, programme, and maintain software and be good at it. Naomie Manishimwe, a student in the department of veterinary technology at IPRC, Huye campus, wishes to witness more girls in the future excelling in veterinary and becoming veterinary specialists. “Currently a big number of veterinary specialists are male. I would like to see more girls joining this department with no fear and becoming the best veterinary specialists in Rwanda,” she shares. ALSO READ: Women’s Day: Parents urged to inspire girls in STEM Aloysie Manishimwe, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and the University of Rwanda, working on tropical trees’ responses to climate change, says more girls should join STEM to eradicate gender inequality and stereotypes in STEM education. “Some time ago, STEM was seen as designed or reserved for men because it was seen as difficult to pursue and succeed at. I don’t mean that STEM is easy, but it is not impossible. The journey has been long and not easy for some girls and women in STEM, but it has been possible for many,” she says. Manishimwe guides girls to succeed in STEM, overcome the fear that STEM is difficult, and for men, be confident—if your role models did it, you can also do it— set goals to achieve, especially regarding who they want to become. Aimee Sabato Hagenimana, a student in the department of agriculture engineering, encourages all girls wishing to join STEM to be fearless and determined because they also can. “Agriculture is often seen as a ‘department for boys’ only because it requires a lot of strength, but what I can assure my fellow girls who are passionate about agriculture is that we are also able and strong. I am proof of that because I am doing better than my male classmates,” she says. Hagenimana believes that women will be the future of agriculture engineering because they have they are more than capable of leading the development of Rwanda.