We may not have heard of many famous female mathematicians in the world, but that is probably because until quite recently, it was not easy for women to go to university, let alone have a career in sciences.
Lately, women have plucked up the courage to venture into Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields, largely dominated by men.
Temwa Chimphepo, 22, is one of the women that have braved the waves of mathematics subjects.
A 2017 graduate in Social Science, Temwa is currently on the road to pursuing a master of science in Mathematical and Computational Finance at Oxford University under a Rhodes scholarship.
She beat numerous candidates for the single slot given to five Southern African countries – Botwana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia and Swaziland.
“I was excited. I kept saying thank you, to the person who called. I felt inner peace and moments later it seemed like a dream,” she explains.
Approximately 90 Rhodes scholarships are given across the world as per geographical allocations, with one seat reserved for the five countries in southern Africa.
Temwa becomes the seventh Malawian to win the scholarship in the 21 years that the country has been part of this programme.
Past scholars include Charles Kapalamula (2001) Dr. Matthews Mtumbuka (2002), Dr. Dick Kachuma (2004), Norbert Nthala (2015), Mary Jiyani (2015) and Frank Mtumbuka (2016).
She plans to read for a Master of Science Mathematical and Computational Finance to help the world solve complex financial problems.
Temwa adds that the scholarship stands as an open door to the opportunities that will help her become the ideal mother of World Changers Empire, an organisation that she plans to set up.
“Its vision is to be family to children that lack one. As such, being a Rhodes Scholar means standing up for the children who will find family through this empire,” she explains.
When all is said and done at Oxford, she sees herself in the academia while overseeing World Changers Empire.
“I would love to be a lecturer that will help her students see the beauty of Mathematics. At the same time, I would like to become an investor, raising money to sustain my organisation,” says Temwa.
She says Mathematics is a subject that she found easy since she was a child. When she started her studies at Chancellor College, aside from doing her class work, she would also read stories about mathematicians in the world. She names her mathematics lecturer Dr. Levis Eneya as her role model.
“Dr. Eneya taught me in my first year at Chancellor College. He noted my passion for Mathematics and asked me if I would love to take the course until final year. I jumped at the idea. For once, I found someone who saw my love for Mathematics as normal. He appreciated the beauty of Mathematics. He helped me see what Mathematicians can do, aside from what people think,” she says.
As someone who grew up with an underdog mentality and placed huge limits on herself, Temwa never imagined herself as a Rhodes Scholar. But with time, she decided to embark on mind management and says in her case, the word of God transformed her.
“I have listened to several sermons and read books that pointed me to one thing, I was created to do great things,” she says.
Encouraging girls to join the Mathematics field, she notes that it all starts with what they think about the subject.
“Yes, Mathematics can be hard, but if I was to be asked, I would say English is also hard. Firstly, one needs to get rid of the idea that the subject is hard and then take a step towards understanding the subject.
“One needs to try out as many problems as possible and ask their teachers or lecturers to go through their work. I used to solve all practice questions in class and found more in books. Then, I would make an appointment with my lecturers to check my work. Whenever I entered the examination room, I had an idea about most of the problems,” she explains.
Born in Mangochi on June 19 1995, Temwa is the daughter of Reverend Moses Chimphepo and Dr. Lilian Chimphepo.
“I have amazing parents; they are my best friends. One thing I will always thank them for is letting me be a church girl. Church has built my belief and value systems. I learnt the value of hard work, discipline and focus. I will point out one Bible study group I am a part of- my family. These people made me realise that my story can become the sweetest story ever told. I guess it is getting there now,” she beams.
Temwa went to Marymount Secondary School before going to Chancellor College to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Social Science, which she was awarded in March 2017.
Her degree had an Economics major and minors in Mathematics and Demography. She adds that economics showed her financial problems a mathematician can solve.
She has worked as an intern at World Bank Malawi where she was part of the team that drafted the fifth edition of the Malawi Economic Monitor launched in June this year and also interned at World Vision Malawi.
In life, Temwa says she has realised that comfort zones are never a place for world changers, vulnerable spots are.
“To make any beneficial difference in this world, one has to leave the comfort zone and be an agent of change. Mathematics is there to solve real problems in the world, yet, most people think it ends at teaching,” she says.n