Mom of the Month: October 2020

How special it is to post this feature today on World Teacher's Day! This year, if any, has probably been the most significant in how we honour the role of teachers around the world. In the midst of a pandemic, many of us found ourselves becoming overnight homeschool educators without any prior qualification, whilst the educators themselves needed to either adapt to new methods of teaching online or to go to the frontline and teach their pupils through masks, shields and loads of covid-19 health&safety regulations. To all those who are educators and even those who attempted to educate (with severe kickback from their rather unimpressed pupils)...we at The STEM Moms Club salute you!

This month's #MomOfTheMonth features the story of a biochemist turned STEM educator, who has made it her mission to make the sciences more appealing to school learners. Meet Fatima Patel, the CEO & founder of Nosy Newtons!



Name: Fatima Patel

Age: 41

Location: Gauteng

Job title: CEO and founder of NosyNewtons

Company: NosyNewtons

Fatima Patel: Mom of 3 & Biochemist turned STEM Educator at NosyNewtons

Interview with a fellow STEM Mom

1. What does your everyday work entail?

My daily work begins at 8am when I arrive at my first school. Here I present a range of exciting hands on experiments for my students to enjoy and take home for further experimentation. Since NosyNewtons has a two year rolling curriculum we are often blessed to have students with us for the full two years where they experience around 68 different STEM experiments over this period.

2. What career path led you to your current work?

Well I initially began my tertiary education pursuing a career in Optometry but as soon as I set foot in the analytical chemistry lab, I was hooked! I immediately knew the lab was where I was meant to be. The science we are taught in school, is frankly…boring! And this had sparked a curiosity and excitement like no other. I qualified as a biochemist and went on to complete my honours before entering the work field. Many years later, looking back, I'm glad that I found a path toward utilizing my degree in a way that is beneficial to society whilst still making use of my knowledge of the sciences.

3. How did you decide to move into this career path? -was it a certain person or moment which initiated it all?

During my research years, I came across the STEM concept and was absolutely blown away at how exciting the science subjects could be presented….and I had to learn more! I consulted Professor Moloi at the Vaal University of Technology who suggested I go back to study in order to develop a uniquely South African curriculum. She inspired me to continue and was present when I graduated Cum Laude with my PGDHE where I specialised in curriculum development. She is my South African education inspiration.

4. Was there ever a time that you recall wanting to change paths & what convinced you to continue on your chosen path?

Yes! When I first launched NosyNewtons in 2015, I dove straight into the early childhood development sector and I had such negative feedback! Parents and educators alike would question the necessity of having STEM based lessons for such young learners and were adamant about it! I was on the verge of giving up because no matter how many stats I produced, I just could not change any attitudes. STEM and Science curriculums were deemed boring and irrelevant to life outside of school. Fortunately, I persisted till the point where children would ask for more lessons and that’s where (thankfully!) the positive changes began.

5. Give us a brief description of a normal/extraordinary 24hours in your life. (You can choose one 😋)

I start off my day with my early morning prayer. Followed by the usual...getting my three children up and ready for school...then work and back for mommy and household duties. Preparation for NosyNewtons usually starts on the weekends. I pack the night before for the next day’s lesson and then off to work. We begin each class with a register followed by a short explanation of the day’s lesson...then the students proceed to their stations to complete their experiment of the day. We then end the lesson with a short recap of the concepts learnt/taught. After that its back home for the rest of the mommy duties!

6. Name the one thing which excites you about your field of work.

The absolute wonderment and pure curiosity in my students eyes each time they get to complete an experiment! It is the one thing that always inspires me and makes my work that much more fulfilling!

7. What has your experience been like being a women in STEM?

Honestly, I felt undervalued and overlooked. The truth is that with science, South Africa has a lot of colonial, and anti-black history and this often translates directly into the work field, this coupled with being a female in male dominated industries just doesn’t help. Women are not recognised enough for their achievements and are also not given as equal opportunities as men are… that’s the simple truth. I found that I had to consciously make a concerted effort to persevere despite the subtle jibes, that mothers don’t belong in science because at the end of the day they have children.

8. Do you find that there are still barriers within the STEM field?

STEM in South Africa still has many challenges to overcome. The main one being the gross inequalities present in our educational system. We spend a huge amount of our GDP on education yet the bulk of our rural schools lack basic amenities. Encouraging STEM and the Sciences in general is challenging when a child comes to school hungry and further doesn’t even have a desk to sit at! Cultural and traditional bias also need to be dealt with intentionally and holistically in order to change societal views towards STEM, on a whole. Another major challenge is the need to educate educators on innovative ways to present lessons, to engage each learner in a way that captures and delights them.

9. Did becoming a mom change how you experienced your field of work?

Yes, things definitely changed a lot. As I was working with vaccine development in infectious diseases, I felt it was best to take a sabbatical in order to safely bear and raise my children. I am a Biochemist by profession and women in science fields are often assumed to be underqualified or incompetent, I really didn’t want the “bad mom” judgment added to that! Indian society also has traditionally defined roles as to what a mom should or should not be doing. But I made this decision for myself after seeing my elder sister doing the same and then successfully returning to the workforce once her children were older. The best part about this change though was the inspiration for NosyNewtons.

When my children grew out of the toddler stage, I found myself looking for ways to introduce educational play into their daily routines ...obviously to reduce screen times I used my knowledge of chemistry and physics to introduce simple science was a hit and soon all the neighbourhood children would pop around for our afternoon play session. NosyNewtons was born off these happy afternoons.

10. How do you think organisational spaces could be improved upon in order to better support women in STEM?

Organisational spaces can definitely improve by taking a few basic steps in the right direction. Firstly, we can counteract the challenge of gender by completely razing the gender divide. Emphasis must thus be solely placed on capability and innovation. Being a mother should not be viewed as a career setback but rather as an opportunity to allow growth for a strong future female empowered society.

11.What do you hope to achieve within your career, whether in the short/long term?

I want to create a generation of learners who are excited and exhilarated by the sciences…a generation inspired to innovate and create. I want these new generation of learners to be inventors and explorers rather than simply mass consumers.

12. Would you encourage your little one(s) & other young girls to move into a career similar to your own & why only.

Young females with a strong foundation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics will go on to play an integral role in our nation's global competitiveness and economic stability. I must emphasize that women are no longer bound by antiquated gender roles...we can be mothers and wives and have successful careers too!

Further with the well documented lack of science and technological skills in South has now become imperative to introduce these types of programs if we want to be ready for the 4th industrial revolution...and most importantly if we want South Africans to become innovators and producers...rather than mass consumers. I always tell my own children that STEM opens the door for students to become tomorrow's movers and shakers.

13. What's your favourite mom&kiddie activity?

My kids and I love to swing! It’s the simplest yet most relaxing activity for us… we remove our shoes and allow ourselves to feel the earth and just kick back, swing and talk! Other than that we love to paint and of course we love reading together (I love to do the different voices and it always ends up in rolling laughter!)

14. Please could you give fellow STEM moms some advice on how to navigate the challenges within our field.

Being a mom is an ever changing dynamic journey! You are your child’s first teacher and the person they are most comfortable with so make the most of the unique bond you alone have with your child…remember that COMMUNICATION IS KEY to successful learning. So enjoy those seemingly endless barrage of questions and hone in on that innate curiosity to develop their cognitive and problem solving skills. Establish an open line of communication so that they may feel free to ask and question the world around them.

Once formal schooling starts children are often fearful and find it intimidating to question. As a STEM mom I believe that education should no longer be seen as the regurgitation of facts but rather an avenue towards the development of human potential, and who better to facilitate this than a mom. You alone can provide opportunities for productive growth and stimulation. Hang in there…. all of you are amazing!

If you enjoyed this month's feature, be sure to have a look at our earlier featured moms in the Mom of the Month tab.

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