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Grace Omollo Misere and Anne Akoth Misere

Exceptional sisters with minds for math point to a bright future in Africa

Two African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) alumnae have become part of the critical mass of STEM leaders who will transform the continent.

Sisters Grace Omollo Misere and Anne Akoth Misere share more than bloodlines: each is a gifted mathematician who earned the opportunity to attend AIMS, where they developed the critical thinking, communication, and leadership skills necessary to drive ideas and identify solutions for Africa’s future. With their motivation, success, and shared passion for science, Grace and Anne are setting an example for other young African women to follow.

Grace Omollo Misere

PhD student at La Trobe University, Australia

Like her younger sister Anne, Grace has such outstanding mathematical capabilities that she considers calculus to be relaxing and meditative. Although she faced challenging circumstances during her childhood, Grace credits good Samaritans and benefactors with providing the support she needed to pursue her studies. In addition to drawing on her own abilities, Grace also looked to her two sisters — Anne, as well as an older sister who is a civil and structural engineer — for the inspiration to persevere in a male-dominated field.

Following her undergraduate degree in mathematics, Grace taught mathematics and physics at a boys’ high school in Kenya before being admitted to AIMS Ghana in 2012. She later obtained a post-AIMS bursary to complete an MPhil in Mathematics at the University of Ghana, then tutored in mathematics at AIMS Ghana. She is now enrolled as a PhD student at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, where she is working in the field of graph theory and combinatorics, a branch of pure mathematics that deals with discrete mathematical structures.

Combinatorics has led Grace to work on a conjecture proposed by John Conway, one of the world’s leading mathematicians. Formulated in the late sixties, Conway’s thrackle conjecture proposed a ratio between vertices and edges in a particular type of graph referred to as thrackles. However, the thrackle conjecture has defied definitive proof, leading Conway to offer a cash prize for its solution; the prize has been unclaimed for several decades.

Grace believes that recent breakthroughs in combinatorics and topology have brought formal proof for the conjecture closer and that her research will help shed more light on Conway’s conjecture, even if she can’t solve it entirely. Grace has co-authored two papers on the subject: one was published in the Australian Journal of Combinatorics, while the other has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science.

Anne Akoth Misere

Senior Consultant at Ernst & Young LLP, Kenya

From a difficult childhood to a successful management consulting career, Anne is living proof that with the right support, Africa’s youth has the potential to drive the continent’s growth. Like her sister Grace, Anne’s story is one of perseverance, determination, and passion for mathematics and sciences.

Despite being orphaned at the age of 12, and therefore facing slim chances of attending high school, Anne was determined to pursue her education. She earned a full secondary school education scholarship from the Jomo Kenyatta Foundation before attending Moi University in Kenya, where she graduated at the top of her class with a first-class honours bachelor’s degree in education science with majors in physics and mathematics. Anne went on to teach at a boys’ high school in Kenya for one year, where she was singled out from among 60 teachers for the teacher-of-the-term title.

In 2012, Anne was admitted to AIMS South Africa on a full scholarship, where she met students who shared her passion for solving problems in physics, computer science, engineering, and pure mathematics. With her MSc from AIMS and after participating in the AIMS Industry Initiative, Anne launched her career as a business analyst intern at Infinite Potentials Consulting (IPC), an organization that strives to be one of Africa’s leading consulting firms in education, energy, and healthcare.

During her four-year tenure at IPC, Anne supported the creation of corporate growth plans for private education institutions in Ghana and South Africa, and software development firms in Ghana and Rwanda. She also provided market entry strategies for firms in Europe and North America looking to expand into burgeoning African markets. Key to her work at IPC was making valuable contributions to AIMS, notably as one of the driving forces behind the 2016 Next Einstein Forum, a platform that connects science, society, and policy in Africa together to leverage science for human development globally.

In October 2017, Anne joined the advisory practice of Ernst & Young LLP in Nairobi as a senior consultant. In this role she helps organizations and governments in Kenya and the region improve their performance through the analysis of existing organizational problems and the development of appropriate plans for improvement.

Anne attributes her success to her training in mathematics and science, which she says equipped her to construct and present arguments logically, deal with abstract concepts, and problem solve.

Like other AIMS alumni, Grace and Anne Misere share a passion for science and an understanding of its importance for the future of Africa. Their skills, hard work, and commitment embody the scientific and technical talent in Africa that will continue to drive progress across the continent.

About AIMS

The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) is Africa’s first and largest pan-African network of centres for postgraduate training, research, and public engagement in mathematical sciences.

AIMS centres operate in Cameroon, Ghana, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania. The AIMS-Next Einstein Initiative is a strategic plan to open 15 centres of excellence in mathematical sciences in Africa by 2023. To date, AIMS has graduated more than 1,500 mathematical scientists — one-third of them women — who are currently working in academia, industry, and shaping policy for the continent’s growth.

AIMS is supported through public and private funding, including an initial CA$20 million investment from the Government of Canada provided through IDRC, and a commitment from the UK’s Department for International Development for up to CA$29 million over five years. IDRC has also contributed an additional CA$2 million to fund research chairs and enhance postgraduate opportunities for AIMS-NEI alumni.

In 2016, the Government of Canada announced an additional CA$22.6 million in funding that will be channeled through Global Affairs Canada and IDRC. This new phase focuses on training African mathematical scientists to develop climate change adaptation and mitigation solutions. A specialized program in climate change science will be available to students at AIMS-Rwanda, and fellowships will be offered to outstanding African women mathematical scientists working on climate change issues. This new funding will also contribute to the opening of a new AIMS centre in francophone Africa in 2018.