Verdiana Grace Masanja (née Kashaga) is UDSM’s ‘Alumna of the Month’ for February 2021. Presently, she is a professor at the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) in Arusha, Tanzania. She has been there since February 2018.
She was born in Bukoba Urban on October 12, 1952, going to Ihungo Primary school in Bukoba urban (1959-1962), Nyakabungo extended Primary School in Mwanza town (1963-1966), Chopra Secondary School in Mwanza town for almost one year of ‘Ordinary’-level secondary education (1967) and Rosary College (1967-1970) for the remaining years of Ordinary-level secondary education. Thereafter, she went to Jangwani Girls High School in Dar es Salaam for Advanced-level secondary education in 1971-1972 where she studied Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics. From Jangwani Girls, Verdiana was admitted to the-then Faculty of Science (today’s College of Natural and Applied Sciences, CoNAS) for a three-year degree study programme running from 1973 to 1976. In the records of her old ‘Faculty,’ she is affectionately remembered to have been a brilliant student in both Physics and Mathematics, a record she had actually carried from her previous schools at Jangwani, Rosary and Chopra.
Upon completion of her Bachelor of Science degree (Mathematics and Physics) in 1976, Verdiana was retained by the Department of Mathematics for a tutorial assistant position. She thus next undertook a master’s degree in mathematics by research, her master's thesis was on ‘The Effect of Injection on Developing Laminar Flow of Reiner-Philippoff Fluids in a Circular Pipe’. She completed it in 1979, and she graduated in 1981 after she had already left for Germany for Ph.D. studies in Mathematics. Obviously, for a non-mathematical and non-Newtonian mind, the title immediately casts darkness on the novice’s daytime pathway. But for a Verdiana-Grace, this was already a “mathematics-and-physics made simple”!
Verdiana earned a scholarship for PhD studies in Germany, her employer UDSM gave her a study leave and she left in 1980. She first studied the German language, then joined the Technical University of Berlin (TBU) for the PhD studies. However, she was obliged to supplement her masters in mathematics from UDSM by taking Experimental Physics courses (Nuclear Physics and Solid State Physics) in the masters’ programmes of the Faculty of Physics and Fluid Mechanics courses in the master’s programme at the Hermann-Föttinger-Institute of Fluid Mechanics. . She studied these within the 1981-1982 period and earned an equalisation to the masters’ in physics degree of TUB. She thereafter smoothly continued into a PhD programme by research in Fluid Dynamics with Numerical Analysis. Her PhD thesis title is “A Numerical Study of a Reiner-Rivlin Fluid in an Axi-Symmetrical Circular Pipe”, which she successfully defended in January 1986, becoming a first woman from Tanzania to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics.
After completing her doctorate, Verdiana Grace Masanja returned to Tanzania to her job at the UDSM. She grew through the ranks from tutorial assistant (April 1976-1978), to assistant lecturer (1978-1986), to lecturer and senior lecturer (1986-1991), associate professor (1991-2000) and finally professor (since 2006). Evidently, she was very active in the teaching and supervision of students. More particularly, she took an extraordinary role in popularizing mathematics not only as a ‘friendly concept’ but also as a user-friendly tool in scientific thinking, innovation and proofs. She has for a long period participated fully as a member and also as an official and resource person in a number of professional associations such as the Mathematics Association of Tanzania (MAT), the Africa Mathematical Union (AMU), Southern Africa Mathematical Sciences Association (SAMSA) and Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE). Being the first woman in Tanzania to get a PhD in Mathematics, Prof Masanja has made a significant contribution to the advancement of girls and women in mathematics and STEM. She has received a number of reputable awards such as the Next Einstein Forum (NEF) Sage Women in STEM award, the Eastern Africa Universities Mathematics Programme (EAUMP) and the UDSM Golden Outstanding Award.
Out of her 45 years as an academic staff, she was an employee of UDSM for 34 years, and for some 16 years, Prof. Masanja had tours of academic work mostly with the University of Rwanda (and her predecessors Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), National University of Rwanda (NUR)) and the University of Kibungo, since 2006, where she was a full professor, apart from teaching, she worked at levels of Director in portfolios of postgraduate studies, research, innovation and consultancy, and Deputy Vice-Chancellor responsible for strategic development, research and innovation.
In 2018, Professor Masanja received an appointment by the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) in Arusha for a professorship in applied and computational mathematics. She returned from Rwanda to Tanzania, taking up residency in Arusha. Her current research areas include mathematical/statistical modelling in connection with blood flow in stenosed arteries; drug distribution within the brain; dynamics of transmission and control of diseases in livestock and plants; magneto-hydrodynamics flow of nanofluids; as well as optimisation of clean water and wastewater distribution networks. She has published over 130 works in mathematics; gender in science and technology; education and schooling; and related consultancies. Additionally, she has supervised scores of Masters and PhD students, attended and made presentations at various international scientific conferences, as well as collaborated with colleagues on a number of international and regional projects. The University feels proud of her achievements