Diversity & Inclusion series – celebrating our strengths as a community

geoffrey mboya

At this year’s Vice-Chancellor’s Diversity Awards, University of Oxford staff and students celebrated the achievements of those working to advance equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) across the institution. 

Hear from Geoffrey Mboya – DPhil student, Mathematical Institute and St Peter’s College –founder of the Mfano Africa-Oxford Mathematics Virtual Mentorship Programme serving Black research students from Africa. Through Mfano Africa, eleven students have gained research experience and built their networks. 

Tell us about the experience of being shortlisted for an award this year 

It was motivating that our Mfano Africa-Oxford Mathematics mentorship programme was shortlisted in the "Diversifying Participation" category. It was great to learn about and meet faces behind other interesting diversity projects. We are humbled to be part of the ongoing diversity conversation in academia. 

Where did your passion for this sort of activism come from? 

I come from Kenya in East Africa. As is the case in most understaffed sub-Saharan African universities, I faced challenges in bridging the gap between what I had not been formally introduced to in class and my DPhil research content background. I wanted to help students from the continent prepare early for their research journey by linking them to research mentors to enhance their prospects for graduate school. 

Why did you choose this project? What is your vision for it? 

By increasing access to information that helps students prepare for research studentships, we wanted to play a small part in building human resource capacity for the continent. We are looking forward to seeing Mfano Africa grow into a leading Mathematics Research Institute that collaborates with research institutes of like minds to increase access to quality Mathematics training. We would like to focus on using Mathematics research in Data Science, Machine learning, Applied Algebra and Geometry among others to train experts in managing the continent’s natural resources. 

What have the challenges been? 

Funding. We have had support for the mentorship projects from St Peters College, Mathematics Institute and MPLS Division Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Fund to support 10–15 students for a two month mentorship. Going forward, we are hoping to find support in running our Mfano Africa research projects. 

Has anything surprised you? 

When I launched the Mfano Africa platform, everyone around me saw it as such a long-shot given the demanding DPhil research commitment. With the management help from the Oxford Mathematics Institute, it is such a surprise seeing how it has grown from an idea to real, tangible impacts. 

What sort of impact are you seeing? 

Students graduating from our mentorship programmes are using the training and network they got from Mfano to enrol into leading graduate programmes. 

What’s next for you? 

I am writing up my thesis now. I hope to build my network and research training further through postdoc opportunities, even as I continue to help Mfano Africa grow. I am in conversation with several Mfano Africa mentors to apply for funding to conduct our first three research projects: 

  1. Formulation and analysis of mathematical models to establish the future trends of aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity in Lake Victoria Basin; 
  2. Land-Use Policy Scenario modelling of Lake Victoria Wetlands in Kenya;
  3. Quantitative Scenario modelling of HIV/AIDS management Policies in Lake Victoria Basin. 

What advice do you have for others who’d like to make a similar contribution? 

  • Find out if there are similar projects going on for your target audience. 
  • Be sure that you are not duplicating contributions and that your aim is well defined with a niche. 
  • Work with other like-minded people. 
  • Do your small part; other people will do the rest.

Look out for future posts in our Diversity & Inclusion series. For questions, or to submit stories, please email: rakiya.farah@admin.ox.ac.uk