by Juliet Terrill | In In The News, Press Releases | 23 September 2019 | Updated on: April 13th, 2020

MPOWER Financing launched our Women in STEM Scholarship Program back in February, and we were overwhelmed by the quality of applicants for our first round! That’s why we expanded our next round, which closed July 15th, to award three scholarships.

But the quality and quantity of applications continued to exceed our expectations. We received a record 354 eligible applications, and applicants hailed from over 70 countries and 150 universities. Our scholarship committee was then faced with the difficult task of selecting those women who will best leverage their STEM degree to benefit society and the planet and will serve as role models and advocates for women in STEM. 

After much deliberation, we selected the inspiring women profiled below!  

Thandiwe Wangui Jere, Fulbright Scholar and Immunologist Fighting Lupus

Grand Prize Winner; Malawi, Baylor College of Medicine

Our committee was impressed with Thandiwe’s potential to fight lupus and other autoimmune diseases in Africa,  as well as her track record as a trailblazer for women in STEM.

As an undergraduate, Thandiwe was the only woman in her graduating class to earn a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry. She then earned a dual degree in medicine and surgery.

Thandiwe is now a Fulbright scholar pursuing a Ph.D. in Immunology with a focus on lupus, an autoimmune disorder poorly understood and rarely treated in her native country. In her application essay, she wrote, “The burden of autoimmune diseases like lupus goes largely unaddressed in Malawi because of the lack of expertise in the field, with no trained immunologists or rheumatologists, as well as limited resources.” In the future, Thandiwe hopes to “establish a lupus association in Malawi to provide a platform for research and support and improve our approach to diagnosis and management.”

“Being awarded the MPOWER scholarship motivates me to keep pursuing my dreams of becoming a clinical researcher,” Thandiwe said. “It is encouraging that other people see the importance of having more women in science, especially at the graduate level. Thank you to MPOWER for awarding me this scholarship and being another voice that supports and validates my dreams.” 

Jean Phuong Pham, Founder of VietChallenge Accelerator

2nd Place Winner; Vietnam, Tufts University

Jean is pursuing a dual Master’s degree in Innovation Management and Human Factors Engineering. She impressed our judges with her potential as well as her already impressive track recordas an entrepreneur and change-maker. The Vietnamese government recently awarded $50,000 to VietChallenge, her accelerator for Vietnamese start-ups.

Jean describes the mission of VietChallenge as enabling “Vietnamese-founded startups around the world to tap into a supportive global network of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and ecosystem builders.” Her dual degree from Tufts is integral to her plans for VietChallenge; she writes that it will “equip me with both the technical depth and management skills [to] advance my journey in social innovation and venture capital.” 

“Given my background in psychology and technology,” Jean says, “I will mostly conduct research in the field of human-computer interaction, human factors in assistive technology and more specifically its applications in educational technology for young kids. My dream is to create a future where tech is kind and [works] humanely. Thank you, MPOWER, for believing in my mission and giving me the financial support to achieve my dream.”

Ashani Maneka Dissanayake: Aspiring Aerospace Engineer and Member of Unmanned Mission to Asteroid

3rd Place Winner; Sri Lanka, University of Ottawa

Ashani is pursuing a Master of Mechanical Engineering and is an aspiring aerospace engineer. As a little girl in Sri Lanka, Ashani remembers her reaction upon first learning of the Apollo 11 mission: “I knew it [was] no longer a dream to travel the cosmos but a human possibility.” 

Our scholarship committee was extremely impressed with her past accomplishments as an undergraduate student at Syracuse University. In her essay, Ashani wrote, “I was recognized as an Aerospace and Mechanical Academic Merit scholar.[… During my final year I was involved in a space flight project, a return unmanned mission to an asteroid. [Another major project was] building … a radio-controlled aircraft that internally carries a payload to fly as many laps as possible on a single charge of batteries.”

Ashani also trained herself to fly using a university flight simulator!


“I’m so excited and grateful to be selected as one of the MPOWER Women in STEM Scholarship winners,” Ashani said. “This award will help me pursue my academic ambitions and reach my goal as an aerospace engineer.”

Author: View all post by Juliet Terrill

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