Full Interview Transcript: Fatou Kineh Ndow of the University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College

[By Mamudou Jallow]

Welcome to the maiden interview.

BRIDGING GAPS ADVISORY: Hello Fatou Kineh Ndow, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for the Bridging Gaps Advisory website. I am very confident that your story will serve as an inspiration for many young people, especially our young girls.

Can you start by telling us about yourself particularly your childhood and educational background?

FATOU KINEH NDOW: I was born and raised in Serrekunda. My childhood was an uphill battle but I was never alone throughout that journey. Alhamdoulillah! Even though I come from a very humble background and being the first child of my handicap parents, the love, support and guidance of my family especially my mom kept me going. As many other Muslim children in the Gambia, I first attended Quranic school (Daara), where I started memorizing the Quran and learning more about my religion.

I started my formal educational at St. Charles Lwanga in FajiKunda for both nursery and primary school up to the 5th grade. I transferred to St Therese’s Lower Basic School where I completed my primary schooling and I then proceeded to St Therese’s Upper Basic School to complete my Junior School education. I sat to the Gambia Basic Education Certificate Examination (GABECE) in 2007 and then proceeded to Gambia Methodist Academy that same year, where I went through a systematic 3-year high school education in the field of science.

I obtained admission to the University of the Gambia in 2011 to pursue a Bachelor of Science Degree in Physics but after my first semester, I changed my major to Mathematics. During my second year at the UTG, I was chosen from a number of applicants to attend an exchange program at the St. Mary’s College of Maryland in the United States. The program was for a whole semester. Upon completing my undergraduate studies at the UTG, I got admission to the  Ohio University for my Master’s in Mathematics.

BRIDGING GAPS ADVISORY: You graduated from the UTG with summa cum laude in Mathematics and were the valedictorian for the class of 2016. How was that like?

FATOU KINEH NDOW:  It was a dream come true for me. I happened to attend the UTG convocation in 2012. I was so inspired by the valedictorian for the class of 2012, at the time I was just in my first year in UTG. I related so much to his story and more so the support from his mother. I also wanted to make my mom proud just like he did that day. So from that day I worked very hard to achieve that goal and with the help of God not only was I the valedictorian but I graduated with a summa cum laude.

BRIDGING GAPS ADVISORY: You stole everyone’s attention at the event especially in the way you made your mom the centre stage of your graduation, what can you tell us about your mom and how does she inspire you?

FATOU KINEH NDOW: Honestly, apart from God, if you see me make it thus far for the most part is because of her. She had the option of agreeing to marry me young or do other things that would have hindered my education. Instead, she chose to support my education all through the way. She is the most hardworking and dedicated woman I have ever seen. I don’t really have to look further than my mom for any inspiration.

BRIDGING GAPS ADVISORY: Fatou Kineh, the question on everybody’s mind is why Mathematics? As a young female, how did you fall in love with a subject that students around here jokingly refer to as “the Gambian’s problem”?

FATOU KINEH NDOW: I was very lucky to have teachers who made mathematics very interesting and fascinating to study.

BRIDGING GAPS ADVISORY: Is Mathematics really a difficult subject as it is portrayed to be?

FATOU KINEH NDOW: Mathematics is not difficult if you have a good teacher, devote more time to it and you try to think critically. Of course, some understand it faster than others but with practice and devotion it is not arcane as it may first seem to be.

BRIDGING GAPS ADVISORY: What will you tell our young, especially young girls aspiring to study Math, about the opportunities that are there for a Math graduate besides teaching?

FATOU KINEH NDOW: They should really go for it, girls are so underrepresented in the STEM field especially Mathematics. The ability to apply and analyze mathematical concepts can be useful in almost every industry. There are so many professions out there for Mathematics graduates. They can get employed as Data Scientists, Actuaries, Statisticians, and Meteorologists etc.

BRIDGING GAPS ADVISORY: Since you’ve just brought it up, what do you think Gambian educators and parents should do to make STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education more attractive to girls?

FATOU KINEH NDOW: Parents should support their children’s education and not force the girls to get married young. Government should offer more scholarships to girls in the sciences and create job opportunities related to the STEM field.

BRIDGING GAPS ADVISORY: You told us earlier about your first visit to the US as an exchange student while doing your undergrad at the UTG. How was the transition from the UTG to St. Mary’s College of Maryland especially with regards to any challenges you may have faced coming from a third world country?

FATOU KINEH NDOW: My stay as an exchange student at St. Mary’s College of Maryland availed me a great deal of cultural exposure and experience. I had a taste of cultural dynamism and diversity largely due to my interaction and socialization with different people of diverse backgrounds.  When I arrived, I had culture shock and everything was so overwhelming. I had to adjust to the advance technology, the accent, some of the food, course workloads and the harsh weather. The exchange program was well structured and generally people were very nice so I was able to settle down quickly.

BRIDGING GAPS ADVISORY: You left the Gambia on a scholarship to study for your Masters degree at the Ohio University; can you please tell us how that scholarship came about?

FATOU KINEH NDOW: I was introduced to a Gambian professor at Ohio University. He facilitated everything for me.

BRIDGING GAPS ADVISORY: Congratulations on the completion of your post-graduate program at the Ohio University and your recent appointment as a Math Instructor at the University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College in the State of Ohio. Describe your day as a Math Instructor?

FATOU KINEH NDOW: Thank you! Actually, I started as a Math Instructor at the Gambia College. I taught PTC students and then first year Public Health Students. As a Master’s student at Ohio University I also taught College Algebra to undergraduate students. At the beginning it was intimidating. Being young and female with older students and naturally being a shy person, it was a big challenge for me but I was able to overcome it.

BRIDGING GAPS ADVISORY: Some people tell me that you did not worry much about fashion especially when you were studying at the UTG. You were said to be more interested in your books than in your looks, how do you respond?

FATOU KINEH NDOW: (Laughs)Yeah that’s true.

BRIDGING GAPS ADVISORY: As a student, how much time did you spend watching television soap operas or on social media?

FATOU KINEH NDOW I wasn’t active on social media. I love watching TV but school was the priority.

BRIDGING GAPS ADVISORY: What’s your favorite show on TV?

FATOU KINEH NDOW: Right now, my favorite show on TV is the Daily Show with Trevor Noah.

BRIDGING GAPS ADVISORY: While in the States you’ve toured New York, Boston and Washington DC in much publicized public appearances. You even spoke at an event in New Jersey in  June, how was that experience like?

FATOU KINEH NDOW: My undergrad was sponsored by a charitable organization whose donors reside in most parts of the US. I was invited to different states in the US to meet the donors and raise funds to support more Gambians especially females whose parents cannot afford their fees. Consequently, I had been speaking in some of these events.

BRIDGING GAPS ADVISORY: What’s next for Fatou Kineh?

FATOU KINEH NDOW: PhD in Mathematics and starting a family.

BRIDGING GAPS ADVISORY: Have you already found Mr. Right or would he have to wait till you don the Doctorate gown first?

FATOU KINEH NDOW: (Laughs)I will pass this question.

BRIDGING GAPS ADVISORY: What advice do you have for the young ones in school today, especially our young girls?

FATOU KINEH NDOW: To focus on their education and never give up. It’s never easy but with hard work , determination and perseverance anything is possible.

BRIDGING GAPS ADVISORY:  Fatou Kineh thank you again for your time and congrats once again for your remarkable achievement. We are really proud of you.

FATOU KINEH NDOW: Thanks! I really appreciate it.