12.27.2013. Happy 81st Birthday To Pioneering Mathematician And Educator Dr. Grace Alele-Williams!

Dr. Grace Awani Alele-Williams
Dr. Grace Awani Alele-Williams

Happy 81st Birthday to pioneering mathematician and educator Dr. Grace Alele-Williams!

Grace Awani Alele-Williams was the first Nigerian woman to receive a doctorate degree. She was born in Warri, Nigeria, in 1932. She attended the Government School in Warri, then Queens College, Lagos, and the University College of Ibaden (now the University of Ibaden). After completing her undergraduate education she became a mathematics master at Queen's School, Ede Osun State, from 1954 until 1957. Dissatisfied with her situation at Queen's School, Alele managed to obtain financial assistance from the Nigerian Head of Service to attend the University of Vermont as a graduate assistant with the goal of becoming a secondary school teacher.

She found the weather in Vermont to be cold and also experienced forms of segregation in the rural setting. Soon, however, Sputnik shifted America's attention to the importance of mathematics and education, and Alele had the opportunity to go to the University of Chicago, Columbia, or Harvard. She chose the University of Chicago, and in 1963 obtained her PhD. in mathematics education with a dissertation on "Dynamics Of Education In The Birth Of A New Nation: Case Study Of Nigeria." Alele also married in 1963.

Upon her return to Nigeria she became a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Education at the University of Ibaden. In 1965 she joined the faculty at the University of Lagos where she worked until 1985, becoming the first female professor of mathematics education in 1974. During this time she also directed the Institute of Education where she introduced programs to benefit teachers. She participated in the African Mathematics Programme, based at the Educational Development Center of Newton, Massachusetts, whose goal was to consider changes in mathematics education in Africa.

Dr. Alele-Williams made history in 1985 when she became the Vice-Chancellor of University of Benin. (She was the first African woman to hold such an esteemed position.) She remained at the University until 1991. Since her retirement fro academia, she has served as an elected Fellow of the Mathematical Association of Nigeria and has been contributing to the private sector as Chairperson and Director of a number of high-profile national and transnational companies.