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2019 Chron15 Pioneer: Sally Afia Nuamah

Few assistant professors start their first academic job having already done a TEDx Talk. But Sally Nuamah has. 

That’s because she’s committed to taking her scholarship beyond seminar rooms and sharing it with the world. She is not only a public policy professor: she is also a documentary filmmaker, a writer and an outspoken advocate for girls’ education. 

Nuamah’s passion for leveling the playing field is rooted in her childhood in Chicago. Her mom was a single parent and hotel worker, and they led a rather no-frills life. She excelled in the classroom and won scholarship after scholarship to launch her career. Her pioneering talent was noticed during her years as a Phi Beta Kappa undergraduate at George Washington University, where she won the Manatt-Trachtenberg Award for challenging the social and intellectual conscience of the university. 

Since then, she has accumulated many more awards, including the 35 Under 35 Leaders Making an Impact from Chicago Scholars and the 2019 Forbes 30 Under 30 in Education. Her new book "How Girls Achieve" grew from her comparative studies of students in the United States, Ghana and South Africa. In it, she examines the institutional and social barriers that prevent girls from reaching their goals. 

To further her goal of helping girls, she founded the TWII Foundation, which provides college scholarships for low income girls in Ghana. She argues for “feminist schools” to start girls on path to lifelong achievement.

Judith Kelley is the dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy.

Editor's note: This profile is part of our annual initiative called The Chron15. We are highlighting 15 people and groups who are defining what it means to be at Duke this year. Read about the project and more of our selections. 

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