Throughout her 24-year career at the University of Hartford, Professor Abby Ilumoka’s passion for educating young people in the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) has been apparent.
Now that passion has earned her the position of Program Director for Engineering Education at the National Science Foundation (NSF), where she can advance STEM education on a national level.
Ilumoka is on a leave of absence from her position as professor of electrical and computer engineering (ECE) in the University of Hartford’s College of Engineering, Technology, and Architecture. She began her new role at the NSF in September.
The NSF, based in Arlington, Va., is the federal agency that promotes science and engineering research and education in the United States. Ilumoka is serving in the Division of Undergraduate Education. “I am excited about the opportunity to impact U.S. national policy on STEM in ways that will ensure the U.S. continued global pre-eminence,” Ilumoka said. “I believe that my years of teaching, research, and service as professor of ECE at the University of Hartford have prepared me well for the position.”
In her new role, Ilumoka manages grant programs that award funds to two- and four-year colleges and universities for educational research and for programs that broaden participation in the STEM fields and improve undergraduate STEM education. She knows first-hand how important a grant can be in supporting efforts to expand young people’s interest in STEM.
In addition to her teaching and research duties, while at UHart Ilumoka promoted STEM education at the middle and high school levels in Greater Hartford, particularly among female and minority students. She received an $85,000 NSF grant to help fund after-school and summer STEM workshops, which were largely taught by University of Hartford undergraduates. She also recruited professional engineers, scientists, and doctors to speak to the middle and high school students and get them excited about STEM.
“I know that my work definitely created a greater awareness of STEM careers among girls. That in itself is a major step forward,” Ilumoka said. “Getting the word out among young women that it's okay to have a career in STEM is half the battle won.”
One problem is that a number of students who are interested in STEM careers give up without reaching their goals, Ilumoka said. She encourages students to focus on the long-term and not get discouraged by temporary setbacks, and she is seeing progress. “STEM is a leaky pipeline. I saw that I had an impact locally in plugging those leaks. I know that there are mechanisms we can put in place to help plug the pipeline, and now I can do that on a larger scale.”
Ilumoka, who is originally from Nigeria, holds a PhD in electrical engineering from Imperial College of Science, Technology, and Medicine in London. She began her career working in the telecommunications industry in Nigeria, extending telecommunications infrastructure to rural parts of the country. After returning to Imperial College in London as a research engineer, she moved to the United States and joined the University of Hartford faculty in 1992.