How did you end up studying what you did in college? Did you have a choice, or are you part of the majority of university students who are studying subjects they were enrolled for, rather than what they actually wanted?
According to a recent report by the Harvard Business Review Magazine, young people’s career paths are influenced by three factors. First, is the innate skills, talents or mastery they possess to perform a certain task. The second is whether there is someone they know or admire from their family or community who is in a particular field, and lastly, whether they derive emotional satisfaction from the job.
MyNetwork had a chat with five students who shared fascinating life experiences that influenced their choice of courses.
Peter Mwangangi, Actuarial Science
Growing up, Peter wanted to become an accountant, however, in secondary school, his teachers advised him to study Actuarial Science instead because he was very good in mathematics and physical sciences.
Being a poor orphan, Peter had a tough childhood, but he managed to go to Mwingi High School where the school’s deputy head teacher gave him free regular meals.
“It is this teacher and another accountant from my village who counselled me and asked me to consider taking a course in actuary, as opposed to accounting, which is what I initially wanted to pursue. They told me that actuary is a new field that was just taking ground in Kenya, and that very few Kenyans held degrees in that field,” he said.
While he was in Form Two, Peter suffered a minor setback as the deputy head teacher who supported him financially and materially was transferred to another school. He was sent home shortly afterwards due to non-payment of school fees, and had to transfer to a day school in his neighbourhood.
At Katisasi Day School, Peter performed so well that after two terms, his teachers did everything in their power to take him back to Mwingi High School. They deliberated on how to execute this, and one of them introduced Peter to the Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF), a non-governmental body that supports and mentors needy children.
“When I returned to Mwingi High School, the students had already completed the Form Two syllabus, but I caught up quickly by studying hard. I scored grade A in my final exams and there began my journey to actuary.”
Prudence Afandi, Human Resource Management
Prudence’s decision to pursue a career in human resources was borne of a deep desire to help individuals overcome any inhibitions brought about by their personality types.
She describes herself as an introvert, and says that this type of personality made it very hard for her to interact with others while she was in secondary school at Starehe Girls Centre.
“Because I was quiet and reserved, I felt like I had to try very, very hard to express myself. My classmates were much louder and outgoing, and this bothered me,” she said.
In an attempt to counter this, Prudence joined the school choir, and attended rehearsals religiously. Eventually, she managed to come out of her quiet shell, and relate more freely with both her friends and teachers. She now intends to help people who have similar challenges with their personalities overcome them.
“I want to become a life coach and help individuals develop their personalities. My mission is to help them reach their full potential, just like I am doing for myself. That is why I opted to study Human Resource Management,” she says.
Prudence had a troubled childhood while growing up in Isanjiro in Kakamega County.
“My mother was a grocer, with six children to take care of. My father wasn’t always around,” the dimpled soft-spoken 23-year-old said, adding that she endured violence at home, and that she and her siblings weren’t always provided with basic needs.
A good education, she quickly figured out, would be her only escape from this dark experience.
“I performed well in primary school, scoring 419 out of 500 marks. That is when my friends and family started taking notice of me. All of a sudden they were proud of me. I was admitted at Starehe Girls Centre, where my journey of self-discovery began,” she said.
At school, Susan joined the Global Give Back Circle, an organisation that sponsors and mentors girls who are in secondary school and in university.
From the many workshops she attended, she learnt that she had to know how to communicate first with herself, before she could communicate with others. She also learnt that she could make the most of her introverted personality by taking part in character building activities.
“I learnt how to play the piano and afterwards I started teaching others, that way, I developed communication skills - I’m happy that I no longer feel the need to isolate myself or shy off from interacting with others.
“I have found out that the world largely favours extroverts, and I am glad that I fit in. I hope to help others develop their personalities so that they can fearlessly take on the opportunities that come their way, and that is why I chose to study human resources.”
Anne Marisia, Food Science and Nutrition
When she was in Standard Five, Anne Marisia watched her father suffer and eventually die of cancer. This experience had a lasting impact on her career choice. On his deathbed, Anne tearfully told her father that she would become a doctor when she grew up.
“I told him that I would work hard and find a cure for him. I wasn’t able to fulfil this promise, but as I watched him die slowly, I made a decision that I would spend the rest of my life helping people like him get better,” she says.
Anne’s primary ambition was to study health sciences, and when she was called to study Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Eldoret, she was elated.
“I like this industry. So many people are struggling to get fit, and I am happy to help them get there. Some take extreme measures such as intermittent fasting, only to end up gaining even more weight. It is an exciting field os study. I’d like to explore this field further,” she said.
Anne’s career choice, regardless of her motivations, could not have come at a better time. She joins a field that has been, albeit mistakenly, placed on the fringes for a long time. The local medical field has been forced to confront some difficult home truths regarding scarcity of medical professionals in the country, lack of modern medical equipment, soaring cost of healthcare, and the changing epidemiological profile of the country where more Kenyans are dying of non-communicable diseases such as cancers, rather than the more common suspects such as Malaria and Pneumonia.
It is here that Ann’s expertise is most needed, because just like doctors and nurses, nutrition experts are key players in the clinical management of health issues. When she completes school, she will join about 5,100 Kenyan experts in this field who will be critical in the management of lifestyle-related diseases.
“I hope to work with companies that manufacture food, or in hospitals where I can advise patients on what foods and supplements to take to improve or manage their conditions. I have learnt that bad nutrition can lead to non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cancers and weight-related problems, so I feel like I am fulfilling the promise I made to my father by advising the public on what to include in their diets so that they can avoid contracting such diseases. In hospitals, I hope to help patients who already have such diseases to manage them. As a nutritionist, you must care for others - I will be prescribing food just the same way doctors prescribe medicine.”
Aida Randa, Medicine
Aida’s style oozes Victorian mannerisms. Her skirt is tightly belted, has neatly pressed pleats, and rests easily over her flat pumps. Over this stylish outfit, she has on a white dust coat. She is a fifth year medical student at Maseno University. At Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Training and Referral Hospital in Kisumu County where she goes for her practical classes, Aida feels very well at home despite the heavy workload and the deeply strained industry she is in.
“This is what I was made to do” she says.
Aida was motivated to become a doctor following a string of childhood tragedies, chief among them the death of her father. Fortunately, she got a scholarship to study at Starehe Girls High School, before joining Maseno University to study medicine.
After she lost her father in 2005, bitter wrangling among her relatives ensued, and in the aftermath, her mother was evicted from their home. She carried Aida on her back and moved to Arina, a low income neighbourhood in Kisumu City.
“There was so much poverty and hopelessness around me that I thought I would never make it in life. I thought that I was destined for a life of poverty and misery,” she says.
After she sat her Kenya Certificate of Primary School Education exams, she placed Starehe Girls Centre as her first choice among the secondary schools she wanted to join.
“I did this because I had heard that the school doesn’t charge any school fees. Because my mother had no money, I knew that a scholarship was the only way I could complete my secondary school education. To her pleasant surprise, her hard work paid off and she got admitted to Starehe. This is where her life and her view of herself changed.
“I had seen many of my neighbours at Arina suffer due to lack of good healthcare services, and this stirred something in me. I resolved to join the medical field.
“And while most of my classmates are hoping to work in the major cities after we graduate, I have asked my teachers to place me in any government hospital in Baringo County or any other rural town. When I told them this, my lecturers were shocked, but I know that there are very few doctors in rural areas, and the people there would really use my help.”
“More importantly, I am very proud of my humble beginnings. Growing up, I never imagined that I would actually get to be a doctor after enduring all that poverty. Yet here I am. Whenever I think about my mother and my neighbours, I get the motivation I need to actualise my dreams.”