Journeying To Graduate School

This past weekend, I remembered how I concluded the search for graduate schools. Nothing could have prepared me for the mental evolution ever since I started applying. Initially, I only knew I wanted to do my GRE and GMAT and apply to graduate programs for a dual degree.

Without more than the knowledge that I needed to do extremely well in these standardized steps, I started with the low hanging fruit – studying for the tests, and after the results, discovering how I could get through just the exams. After studying and passing both sets of exams, I decided to prioritize taking the path to public health.

For those who have often had plans laid out before them, and never really had to make deliberate plans in one direction or another, you can imagine my trepidation in defining the early stages of my career through my training. It was with much thought, that I decided to pursue a Masters.If you haven’t often had to lay out complex plans, start now, because time was the friend that made me realize, it is my life, and right now, I have to.

Self reflection can systematically break you down. Couple some harsh introspection with a clash of busy and intimidating work conditions, and you can totally lose it. Thankfully, this process of turning yourself inside out and discovering what exactly it means to be a student writing about myself was productive. The breaking down of my long term and short term goals, coupled with my skills, and interests called on me to identify who I am, what others perceive of my strengths, and what I would like to do in future.

As I had become accustomed to throughout my school years, I motioned closer to my profs. I needed to know what was the best way to start presenting my academic papers to my prospective schools. I started with a professor who had shaped my latter undergraduate years, a scholar-mentor-friend figure who I respect. At first, when I emailed with a shortlist of what I thought I would present, he replied asking more questions. After his answering with a series of thought provoking questions, I felt the impetus to forge ahead quite strongly, and I really re-wrote my work.

Despite his busy schedule, he met me, listened to me wade through tentative descriptions of my work and described succinctly how to move your mind into the academic viewpoint. He gave me the teacher’s best gift to a student, the ability to translate their observations of your work and perspectives and create a powerful stamp of approval that propels the student to ardently pursue his or her own goals.

Whoever tells you applying to graduate school is easy is not applying while working full-time managing timely deadlines, and a full social calendar, family and friends. However, the ease I found with this great directional help from my professor allowed me to know what I was going to do to apply, and convinced me that this was indeed the educational opportunity that I sought.

When you are applying to graduate school, you quickly discover that everyone has an idea of where you ought to be. You have to have the deep-seated resonant voice of a strong willed child to distinguish the effusive-yet-empty praisers from those deeply invested in your success.

It helped to have some goals and a view of who I am and what I hope to achieve, to help me determine the direction the true voice was coming from. Overall, the responses were powerful. While many people who I trust and turn to seemed to think that I would make a particularly good grad student, some were not convinced. I know now there will always be dissenters, whose negativity must be tempered with good grace.

All my academic advisers had my back throughout this iterative process. There are many people who worked with me on this part, and I have to highlight one, in particular. He guided me and did so in a diligent, pragmatic and exemplary manner. He was unshakeable in his support, sure that I would get into both of his prestigious alma maters – his first academic loves – or really, any school I set my heart to attending.

I read letters from classmates and friends in the professional world who were undergoing similar trying processes. Many did not make it. Either they bombed the GREs, or messed up their apps, or couldn’t get good recommendations. Something was always up, it seemed. For others, it seemed as if their every word turned to another letter of acceptance accompanied by an offer of full funding. Such is life, I thought.

In the face of all of this, I started to hope. I planned my next vacation (far beyond the hand-in dates for the applications) and started what I thought would be just 4 applications. At one point after making these plans, I gave up  by saying it out loud, to my family and dear ones. And immediately, I regretted giving up almost right away. I found, to my deep delight and relief, that I had many people around me who would not let me give up. You need these people. I am glad I have had the chance to thank them.

Next, I asked for writing help. Despite my experience as a blogger and many-time writer, I found that the statement that I had written was not yet up to par. I logged online one evening, and found a friend who I had not met for a long time, who was now making a name for herself increasing the writing potential for her community. She heard my predicament, and offered her advice at no fee (a boon to my pocket and to my project)

And my mind opened up. I challenged the notion of possibility. I chose to believe and reproduce things that I had done, creating connections that would show these schools that I was the student that they needed to admit and possibly fund. I looked at the pages and edited feeling the truth in the statement that I produced and shared with admissions officers.

That graduate school preparation process meant that I had to count my contributions as meaningful; my thoughts as valid; my work as intentional and my contacts and placements as invaluable. Graduate school seems to be one place that all my world will collide and change for the better in many ways. I cannot wait for this experience to continue unfolding.


AKILI DADA: Educating Women in Kenya

     I have spent the last month or so interacting with Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, the founder of Akili Dada, a start-up which is funding education for smart women in high school who need the financial and social support resources to get through high school.    In a number of ways, this adjunct professor  of politics and an Ethnic Minority Dissertation Fellow at University of San Francisco reminds me of my long time inspiration, Prof. Wangari Maathai. Her willingness to tap into the top girls and support them is inspirational, and an important resource for women in Africa and the diaspora.

For those who do not speak Swahili, Akili (Ah-keeley) means intellect, ability, strategy, knowledge, competence and Dada (Dad-uh) means Sister; a term of endearment and respect among women.

Akili Dada is an international non-profit organization which is dedicated to providing education opportunities for women in a manner that acknowledges the dignity and respect of the African woman. The organization provides scholarships and leadership training to the girls and offer the future leaders a chance to network with mentors and peers. Akili Dada awarded its first four scholarships in February 2006. This year, the organization more than doubled its number of grants. In Kenya, the group is a registered nonprofit; in the United States, it operates as a global support fund of the Tides Foundation.

Kenya has produced  illustrious female scholars, professionals, and leading experts in their fields, who have given us a series of firsts. Many of the leading women have sponsored school fees on a one-off basis or for a season. Akili Dada introduces a structured approach to sustainable educational investment in a helpful way to build Africa’s future women leadership by opening up the opportunity to invest to a wider audience.

In an interview for her alma mater, Whitman College, “The goal of Akili Dada is to nurture a generation of women leaders while restoring hope for young Kenyan women — hope that lets them see how vision and hard work can lead to success,” said Kamau-Rutenberg. “You’ve got dynamite if you can identify a brilliant young woman who has already overcome unspeakable poverty, link her to a network of her peers and other professional Kenyan women, and eliminate the burden of worry about school fees.” In another article in the San Francisco Foghorn, Kamau-Rutenberg says, “Akili Dada is about more than education. It’s about creating future leaders, infusing the girls with confidence to be whatever they want to be when they grow up. It’s more than just sending tons of people to school. They’re going to finish and excel beyond that.”One board member views Akili Dada as a ‘feminist, collaborative approach to empowering women’.

Akili Dada is offering students enpowerment through education, which is a value-based approach to donating to a cause. I always heard, and believe, that if you educate a woman, you educate her whole village. Think of the impact of an educated woman on the global village.

For more information on Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg’s work, visit, or read her blog for updates on Akili Dada at

A Kenyan Guide To Corporate Careers in the USA

Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are purely mine. it does not necessarily represent the views of any of the author(s) or contributors to the Career Guide.

Whenever good information on education comes out, one really never hears about it. Kenyan Professionals USA have done us proud.
Often our interaction with people doing well comes from the older generation grapevine, where the mother set will tell stories of so-and-so, working in (insert US city of your choice), great job, he was just lucky. This group of Kenyan professionals have talked and decided to do something about this information gap.

Within the mainstream corporate culture here, it is easy to focus on the woes and not the great network of Kenyans who are pursuing successful careers in the corporate world. This guide to corporate careers in the USA is great for anyone interested in the corporate experiences of Kenyans in the USA.

We have a rich tradition of excellence among academics and professionals all over the world, and this group came together in 2006 to prepare a guide for Kenyans to plug into resources for the next level of professional engagement.

Your instructions are clear. Just read the guide. Do not hesitate to read for yourself. We come from a culture where people like to be told via radio, clarion etc. Like all guides, you figure where you are in the thought process and get spreading the word people.

Teaching Entrepreneurship

Reading the posts on KBW always refreshes me, for all the times that I have read egm,
aco , kenyanmusings, mwariwadavid and many many others, I am proud to be associated. Join my foray into social innovation, entrepreneurship, development projects and travel.

Can one really teach entrepreneurship? The idea that the skills to start up and successfully run your own business are at hand within a teaching module begs every one to consider the possibility for testing the effectiveness of teaching these skills. In a normal class, every person learns and receives the same curriculum, then each takes the same administered test and then after that, the proficiency in the testing serves as a measure of how well you have assimilated the course material.

However, the truth is that standardized assessment tests are woefully bad at determining learning because many of them rely on the ability to reproduce the course material for the examiner and they rely wholly on rote memorization to achieve this level of knowledge. I am not discounting the fact that there are people, who learn from a certain course and retain that knowledge through analysis and application of the material, but it does prompt me to wonder, can we teach entrepreneurship skills be taught to non-traditional learners without this emphasis on standardized testing.

 In the United States, the National Foundation For Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) is the premier youth teacher in the field of entrepreneurship. The Foundation believes that young people can learn the skills needed to change their own financial futures at any age. I have a feeling that this particular area of business skills can be taught to young women especially because learning a trade, such as hairdressing is only as successful as your management.

 Ryan P. Allis, a young entrepreneurship teacher said:

“Only by teaching does one really learn the material. Through teaching entrepreneurship I added quite a bit to my knowledge about entrepreneurship and business. I learned about Porter’s Five Forces, additional types of alternative financing, new distribution models, the marketing wheel, and a new type of break-even analysis.

Just as important, however, was my learning about people and leadership. I learned how to relate and connect to younger teenagers. I learned how to handle a position of authority. I learned how to write a forty-five minute speech in two hours. I learned teaching styles. I learned that if you know what you are talking about and can gain someone’s trust, he or she will follow you. I learned how to inspire and motivate. I learned how to understand motives and read the body language and tone of a person. I learned how to build rapport and relationships. And I learned how to go ten days with forty hours of sleep.”

I need to learn how to teach entrepreneurship and business skills.

Have an enterprising Friday



K.C.S.E Results

2009- We have seen an unofficial survey of the top schools reveal that Precious Blood Riruta was the top school according to the Daily Nation in Kenya. The idea that the vast majority of students are not going to make it to C+ says a lot about the education system, and the quality of teachers.  So far, this round of news has me cheering the next generation on – my gals have done me proud. I love them dearly!

2008 -I was awoken yesterday to the IM Message: “Oe, Sorre! Tumewashinda, Strathmore is number 2 overall!” If you are not aware, I went to one of those schools which forever features in the top ten of the country’s best schools. ( Yes, I do say-only when results are out) This year, as this IM indicated, my alma mater was trounced. I was naturally pulled away from the task at hand to the nation/Standard front pages(the ones we can access for free) to see what it was that was the rank. Aaargh! When we were there we were kings! My old school had indeed been trounced by the fellas once again. To be fair, however, there was a fair distribution of girls from the school in the top 100 of the province, so that was a relief.

Before I delve into a monologue about the vagaries of the 8.4.4 system, I would like to thank M-Oh-Wan( Baba) for introducing the system that has produced the most hardened students in the history of Kenya. Guys of 7.6.3 if you are reading this, my disclaimer is that I was not there in your day, and have no direct quotes at you. In this country, the 8.4.4 kids I know are topping in major disciplines and shining in their campus communities. Of course, as you may know, I have not met the full gamut of Kenyans, no quantifiable data exists, et cetera. We are very tough, the system did something.

Back to the results. I was surprised to hear that not one girl attempted Aviation Technology in 2006. More saddening to me was the fact that even though more girls than boys attempted the exam, girls ranked poorly in major subjects. I am all for women and the figures are disheartening. On a cheerier note, I received an email from a relative who sat the KCSE last year with the email of the results. In this era of tech savvy youth, I suppose one could check online and then send the results to one’s nearest and dearest. In spite of the fact that the said rela had done very well, the usual rank and file of applying to public universities may overlook obvious good grades in favor of the overall point system. I am proud of my rela! As we would say (clap, clap, clap)”Good!” (clap, clap, clap)”Vyema” (clap, clap, clap)”you have made us proud”.

K.C.S.E is brutal testing if I ever saw any, so if you meet recent result receivers, do not forget to acknowledge their efforts.

Have a resultant Thursday!