Born in a generation where the idea of female education was partly foreign, Professor Francisca Nneka Okeke has risen above the stereotypes to become one of the leading Nigerian women in science who is even paving the way for the younger generation. By the age of 18 years, Professor Francisca Okeke was married to the renowned physicist Professor Okeke and together they have 6 children. But contrary to popular opinion about marriage and child bearing, Professor Francisca has handled more than 3 decades of professional success and growth.
Professor Francisca Nneka Okeke was born on the 14th of October 1956 in Onitsha,Anambra state, although she is an indigene of Idemili North local government in Anambra state. She studied physics at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka where she became a Professor of physics. Her area of specialization is Ionosphere as she has conducted many researches in this field. She is most notable for studying the equatorial electrojet phenomenon. This phenomenon simply explains how a river of electric current that transverse the globe eastward around the dip equator causes the magnetic field at the dip equator to vary almost five times more than anywhere else on the planet. She has also done extensive research on the effect of solar activity on the earth’s magnetic field and this could lead to more understanding of climate change and natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis. So far, she has supervised about 28 Master students and 12 Phd students which is no small feat.
Professor Francisca was the first female head of department in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and also served as the first female Dean of the Faculty of Physical Sciences from 2008 till 2010. With her influence, she has advocated for a better inclusion of women in sciences particularly the department of physics and because of this, 3 female lecturers were added to the faculty. This act of advocacy sets her apart not just as an achiever but also as a pioneer who paves the way. In 2011, she was inducted the Nigerian Academy of Science alonside other brilliant minds such as Abba Gumel, a professor of mathematical biology. In 2013, she was also awarded for her contributions to physics which may help us further our understanding of climate change; she was named “L’Oreal-UNESCO For Womennin Science Awards Laureate for Africa.
Professor Francisca Nneka Okeke is a member of numerous professional bodies including the Nigerian Academy of Sciences, Japanese Society for Promotion of Science, Nigeria Institute of Physics, Australian Society of exploration Geophysicists, African Association of Women’s Society, International Astronomical Union and Science Association of Nigeria.
In an interview with UNESCO, when asked about overcoming stereotypes in the society, she had responded by saying that her father was an old graduate of medicine who was also her mentor. Because of him, she fell in love with mathematics and that love eventually extended to physics. Professor Francisca is a serious advocate who encourages womennin science and even though she may not publicly identify as feminist, we the feminist community are more than happy to welcome her into the fold and to applaud her for giving young women the courage and opportunity to chase their dreams.
It is a relief and a step in the right direction to see that the stereotypical gender walls society built around the issue of career path been torn down. A girl can be a physicist and a boy can be a nurse; you can be anything you want as long as you put your mind to it. People like Professor Francisca Nneka Okeke are proof that a girl truly can be anything she wants to be.