Women Breaking Ceilings: Meet Engr. Joanna Maduka

Highlighting Engr. Mrs. Joanna Olatumbi Maduka, the first Female COREN Registered Engineer in 1974; first Female Fellow of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (FIEE), UK; first Female, Fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers FNSE; Honorary Fellow, Nigerian Institute of Science Technology, 1987, Honorary Fellow, Yaba College of Technology in 1998 and first Female Fellow, the Nigerian Academy of Engineering.

Meet Engr. Mrs. Joanna Olatumbi Maduka

Engr. Dr. Joanna Maduka was born in Ilesha, Osun State on May 6th, 1941. She had her early education at Queens School, Ede, from where she passed the West African School Certificate in 1959. She gained admission on to the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Ibadan and passed her Advanced Level Examinations in 1962. Thereafter, she was admitted to the University of Ife where she graduated in Applied Physics with B.Sc. (Hons) 2nd Class Upper Division in 1965. Engr. Mrs. Maduka passed the Graduateship Examination of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (UK) in 1966 and earned an M.Sc. (Engineering) degree from Trinity College, Dublin in 1969. 
She was appointed as a Graduate Apprentice in the Engineering Division of Western Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation, Ibadan (1965-1966); a Lecturer in Applied Physics at University of Ife and later promoted Lecturer, (1966-1970). She joined a firm of consulting Engineers, Leccom Associates in 1970 and became the Principal Partner in 1975.


She founded Friends of the Environment (FOTE) in 1993 with objectives in the areas of renewable energy, waste management and empowerment of women. FOTE is the Nigerian focal point of ENERGIA, an international network of women in sustainable energy based in the Netherlands. FOTE has carried out different activities and research relating to mainstreaming gender in energy issues from 1993 to date. Engr Mrs. Maduka became the first female COREN Registered Engineer in 1974; first female, Fellow of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (FIEE), UK; first female, Fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers FNSE; Honorary Fellow, Nigerian Institute of Science Technology, 1987, Honorary Fellow, Yaba College of Technology in 1998 and first female Fellow, the Nigerian Academy of Engineering. Engr. Mrs. Maduka has over the years served on several National and International Boards, Governing Councils of tertiary institutions and Committees including but not limited to: Federal Polytechnic, Idah (1980-1984), (1986-1988); Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomosho, (1990-1995), Implementation Committee for the Commercialization of National Electric Power Authority (1989-1990); Gender Renewable Energy Sources and Development Applications (GRESDA), a programme under the United Nations Development Fund for Women  International Network of Women in Science and Technology (INWES). She is the President of Ijesha Society, a group of eminent sons and daughters of Ijesha land. In 2008, she was conferred with the national honour Member of the Federal Republic, MFR.

Why did you get into the field of Engineering?

I was good in subjects that lead to engineering and I had an older relation, a man and an engineer, who thought I could do engineering! My father was totally against it as he thought it was a male profession. In fairness, there was no woman engineer at that time! In addition, it was only Ahmadu Bello University that offered engineering and my father never allowed me to go as far as Kaduna, which was being ravaged  by meningitis.

Outside of work, what can we see Engr. Maduka doing? (Do you have any activities, hobbies or cause you are passionate about outside work?)

I’m afraid I don’t have much activities these days except to work on my laptop and watch TV. In my younger days, I was engaged in women and NGO activities. I’m also interested in current affairs, although I’m not an active politician.

What is the one thing you would like to change or address in STEM for young women girls in Africa?

It is important to continue to encourage girls to study STEM subjects as there are still obstacles to the study including not only cultural but also religious influence. As there are many other more attractive subjects for women these days, a lot of advocacy is still required to retain their interest. 

Do you have role-models? If you do, can you tell us who and why you chose them?

I can say my role model when I was growing up was my father’s relation,  who took me to school. She was a teacher and I wanted to be like her. Later when I was in College, my role model was my lecturer, who actually encouraged me to study engineering after my Physics degree. As a woman in engineering in the early days, my role models were male engineers either in business or in the public service. I didn’t stay long in the public service. My mother was my role model in my married life! Understandably, she thought me all I know about marriage and I’m forever grateful to her as I am to my other role models!

Please tell us about the challenges you have faced as a woman in STEM and how did you overcome them? What principles and work can young women put in place to excel in STEM despite the existing cultural stereotypes?

As a girl growing up in the 1940s to 1960s, life was interesting, because the Nigerian political life was turbulent and challenging! In those days anyway, a few women participated in politics. Most women were however either Teachers, Nurses or Secretaries. Any woman in a profession outside these was considered wayward or unacceptable in society! In my own case, I liked STEM subjects in my secondary school, Queens School, although only Maths and Biology were offered. All STEM subjects are taught at present. The first principle therefore is the determination to study the subjects in spite of any cultural obstacle. These days many schools offer these subjects and our association, Association of Professional Women Engineers of Nigeria, APWEN, has many activities aimed at encouraging girls into the study of STEM including ‘Take a Girl to Work’. A girl accompanies a female engineer to work to expose her to the work the engineer does. This has proved very successful! I founded APWEN in 1982 to encourage young girls in the study of STEM and to act as role model for young girls. 

What is your advice to young girls or budding women in STEM? And can you share practical advice/steps and tips that young women and girls can use as they accelerate in their career or academics?

Perseverance and doggedness in any activity they undertake. At the same time, they must be polite and respectful to their colleagues other co-workers. Men are not used to having women in these male dominated professions, but my greatest advice to women is not to sell themselves cheap! If they are married, they must have a work, home balance life, so that as much as possible, the home life does not interfere with their work. 

What comes to your mind when you hear “Women Breaking Ceilings”?

A woman breaking the ceiling means she has achieved what no other woman has been able to do, like our dear new Vice President in the US, whom I’m sure all women all over the world are proud to associate with! 

Please share your social media handles you’d like people to reach you on.

I’m afraid I’m not a social media generation. If WhatsApp is social media then I’m there! I’m registered on Facebook and Linkedin as Engr. Mrs. Joanna Olatumbi Maduka but I do not often use them. They take a lot of time.

Do you know Women who inspire? Nominate them for the STEMi Women Breaking Ceilings (BC) series? Send recommendations/nominations to stemiwomenmakers@gmail.com; info@stemiafrica.org

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