ASU faculty who inspire: Timiebi Aganaba

January 17, 2023 · 6 min read · By ASU Online
Arizona State University faculty Timiebi Aganaba discusses her unique career as one of Africa’s first female space lawyers and her transition to academia. 

A journey to becoming a space lawyer

Timiebi Aganaba is not your typical international lawyer. In fact, she specializes in activities beyond national jurisdiction, as a space governance expert. Featured in the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, NPR, ABC Australia, LA Times, the Telegraph and Business Insider amongst others, Aganaba’s influential career in multi-level space governance serves as an inspiration to many.

However, before she became an expert in matters taking place outside of Earth, Aganaba was exploring it. Born in England, Aganaba experienced more travel adventures than the average child.

“I've traveled a lot in my life, and it's all about parents trying to give kids the best opportunities that they can and parents trying to follow these opportunities also,” Aganaba said. “It's very difficult to uproot your kids from a certain place, but the irony is the growth that happens from each move is quite significant because you get to reinvent yourself each time.”

This understanding and appreciation for new experiences and the growth they bring influenced Aganaba to continue exploring the world throughout her career, starting in the Nigerian village of Bwari, where she attended law school. It was here where she gained insights on just how much abundance is in Africa, as well as the opportunities many people around the world don’t have and the privileges that are often taken for granted.

“You only get to know your privilege and limitations when you get out of your comfort zone and live life in someone else's environment,” Aganaba said.

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In this installment of Beyond the Screen, Timiebi Aganaba, an assistant professor of space and society in ASU’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society, discusses her life as a mother, her extensive career as a space lawyer and her transition to ac

Taking on new opportunities for change

After Aganaba graduated from the Nigerian Law School, she discovered space law and sparked a passion that carried her through her future successes. Following her graduation, Aganaba began working as the first female space lawyer at the Nigerian National Space Research and Development Agency.

“My first task was to research the international partners Nigeria could collaborate with and to develop its space program,” Aganaba explained. “I also needed to figure out what happens and how to address legal issues, for example, if there is a launch failure and we lose our satellite, among other things like that.”

Aganaba also did fascinating work on the application of international environmental law to the issue of space debris. She said, “It is interesting to me that this is a hot topic now globally, and we were discussing it 15 years ago in Africa.”

She acknowledged that holding the title of first female space lawyer in Nigeria, which Aganaba didn’t know till recently that she held, was empowering. However, she knew she didn’t want her career to be limited to one title. So after working in Nigeria for a year, Aganaba left Africa to continue her education.

Her first move was to France, where she completed a master’s in space programme management at the International Space University (ISU). Upon graduating, Aganaba went on to complete her PhD at McGill University and was hired as a teaching associate and associate chair of the ISU’s space policy, law and economics department.

“I'd never thought of doing a PhD, but was persuaded to by my mentor at ISU, and so from there I just ended up becoming an ‘expert’ and did a lot of different things while studying,” Aganaba said.

Aganaba’s career has expanded with her impactful expertise on the varying facets and issues within multilevel space governance. In addition to working as a space industry consultant for the Canadian Space Agency, Aganaba represented Nigeria at two United Nations conferences, at the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and at the International Civil Aviation Organization Model Council, and worked as the executive director of the World Space Week Association. Aganaba is also on the scientific advisory boards for World View Enterprises, the Space Generation Advisory Council and the SETI Institute.

“What I've come to understand about being a lawyer is that there are competing interests that have to be balanced in every situation because one person thinks this and one person thinks that,” Aganaba said. “So as a space governance expert, my job is to say, these are the rights of the state, these are the rights of the private actors and these are the rights of everyone else. How can we all coexist?”


Finding her home among other “first and onlys”

Today, Aganaba brings her extensive knowledge to Arizona State University where she serves as an assistant professor of space and society in the School for Future of Innovation in Society, a senior global futures scientist with the Global Futures Lab and holds a courtesy appointment at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

“ASU has been ranked number one in innovation for the eighth year in a row, but those of us who are here know that it's not just talk, they actually walk the walk and I'm proof of that,” Aganaba said. “I would say that we at the School for Future of Innovation in Society are at the heart of what it means to talk about innovation at ASU.”

While Aganaba never expected to transition from government agency roles to academia, she has found her home within the innovative and communal structure of ASU.

“All through my life, I've either been a first or an only, and I think there are actually a lot of people that are in that position,” Aganaba explained. “At ASU we, for instance, service a lot of first generation students who are the first people in their family to go to university, and that comes with a lot of pride because you've done something that no one else in your family does, but ironically too a lot of guilt!”

As Aganaba continues to meet aspiring lawyers and go-getters, she uses the world experiences and critical thinking skills she’s acquired over her career to not only teach, but also mentor her students.

“It's humbling that I’ve been told that I’m Nigeria's first female space lawyer, because of a position I held 15 years ago, but you must keep asking, ‘What about everything else that I've done since then?’,” Aganaba said. “I may have been the first, but I'm not going to be the last, and that means every opportunity where I meet other black females who have any interest in space, I say, ‘While my path isn’t followable, I can help you in whichever way that I can’.”


Seize opportunities and step out of your comfort zone

Aganaba is proof that when you step out of your comfort zone, seize opportunities and cherish moments with loved ones, anything is possible. Her classes on Strategic Thinking for Everyone and Problem Solving through Strategic Thinking are the avenues that she uses to express those sentiments.

Exploratory degree tracks: An option for undecided students

ASU Online’s exploratory degree tracks give students undecided on a major the ability to begin classes while getting the time and assistance they need to choose the degree that's right for them.


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