WiDS Ambassadors Bring Education and Role Models to their Communities with Christiane Kamdem and Lama Moussawi
Our WiDS Ambassadors in Paris and Beirut discuss the impact of the growing WiDS presence and communities in their countries. Christiane Kamdem, a native of Cameroon and WiDS Ambassador in Paris, is a senior data scientist at the French energy company Total where she analyzes data to create new services and improve market impact. WiDS Beirut Ambassador Lama Moussawi is an Associate Professor at the Olayan School of Business at the American University of Beirut (AUB) where she conducts research and teaches management science.
Both women became WiDS ambassadors because they believe that role models, education, and community can make a real impact. “I believe in the vision of WiDS, which is to inspire, educate, and get educated in the field of data science, and to encourage and support more women and girls to join the field,” Lama says during a conversation with Margot Gerritsen, Stanford professor and host of the Women in Data Science podcast.
Lama grew up in Lebanon at a time of war. “It wasn’t expected that girls would go to university. Girls were expected to get married and be mothers. So when I applied to universities and I got accepted at AUB with a scholarship, it was a great opportunity that I went for and then things started from there,” she says.
She explains that young girls in the Middle East are very smart and have the quantitative skills, but they need support. WiDS provides support, guidance, and mentorship. “By showcasing role models, stellar female experts in the field, we are encouraging those young girls to not to be afraid to join,” she says. “Events like WiDS help us defy those barriers and those challenges that exist for women.”
Christiane says the majority of the students in her grad school in Cameroon were men, and even now, she is the only woman on a team of five data scientists. After getting her Master’s degree, she started to participate in events to attract more young women in STEM fields. “It’s very important to inspire the next generation, and it’s important to build a kind of network of data scientists that can be models for the next generation. Because when you have a model, you want to be like this model,” says Christiane.
Both women have helped to host regional WiDS events that are making an impact in their local communities. The most recent WiDS event in Paris had nearly 250 participants. Christiane says she not only gained a lot of technical knowledge about data science, she also heard the stories from many women who had to struggle in order to be where they are now. “It was very instructive to hear that various paths can lead to great achievements,” she says.
Over the past two years the WiDS events at AUB in Beirut have gotten bigger and generated more awareness. In 2019, many more people were interested and wanted to attend the event. “We are seeing a lot of institutional support, and huge support of the local community,” says Lama. “More and more companies are participating, sending their employees, and contacting us to work on initiatives related to supporting women to join the data science field.”