Fadij Maina (29) has become the first scientist from Niger, as well as the first African scientist, to work for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Maina earned her PhD in Hydrology in 2016, and joined the US space agency at the end of last month.
She will be using mathematical models and data from NASA’s satellites to help understand the water cycle on Earth, exploring how it has been affected by climate change.
She told the BBC’s Focus Africa Programme that she will use the job to give back to her country and continent. She hopes to be an inspiration for girls like her who hope to work in science in the future and represent her country.
“I will say to them to not give up to keep going because everyone would think people from Niger, or a young girl from Niger, would not be able to do this. But just believe in yourself and find an environment that will support you,” she said.
Fadij also mentioned that she has not yet met any other people from Africa in the industry.
“You get used to it also. I think we need to have more people coming from different backgrounds to be able to solve the problems that we are looking at – because different people will have different perspectives”.
In the 1940s, black women who were hired by NASA to aid the space race were seen as “human computers” and received little credit for their contributions.
When NASA later employed their first African-American engineer, Mary Jackson, in 1958 black women continued to face a lot of discrimination in the workplace. The film Hidden Figures tells the story of the African-American women Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson, who helped put John Glenn into orbit in 1962.
Particularly for the space sector, it is important to combat the disproportion in the industry. Deputy Administrator of NASA, Dava Newman, described the space industry as a complex field, where a critical issue is the need to expand innovation and foster creativity through a diverse workforce.
Jackson died in 2005, and in 2019 she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
Her daughter, Carolyn Lewis said the family was honoured that NASA was continuing to celebrate Mary Jackson’s legacy.
“She was a scientist, humanitarian, wife, mother, and trailblazer who paved the way for thousands of others to succeed, not only at NASA, but throughout this nation,” she said.
Employing Fadij Maina is another step in the right direction for NASA and shows their recent focus on increasing and promoting diversity, which will hopefully continue in the future.
Writen by Kate Summerson and edited by Ailie McWhinnie.