Lelaibei Primary School in Olenguruone is your ordinary rural institution with no servicing tarmac road, no piped water, no electricity and no computers.
Out of this school located at the heart of the Mau though, and armed with only 298 KCPE exam marks came this year’s Oxford University’s Oxford University Rare Rising Star.
Simply put, Gladys Chepkirui Ngetich, 27, has joined the list of top ten United Kingdom’s rising stars.
Despite the challenges she faced while growing up in a family of nine in a tiny village of Amalo and the difficult journey in education, Gladys is now one of the PhD in Engineering Science (Aerospace) scholars to watch in the UK, and globally.
“I had 45 per cent and 56 per cent in English and Kiswahili respectively. Proceeding to a good high school was nearly impossible with these paltry marks (in stark contrast, the leading KCPE candidate nationally that year had 472 marks),” Gladys said.
“Our school’s floors were not cemented. Many classes did not have window panes. I actually studied in a mud-walled classroom. We went to school barefoot. There is no electricity, no tap water, no tarmac roads. It was difficult.
“We used to sweep the floors twice a week to keep flees and other crawling insects at bay. We wrote notes in class with one hand securing the book onto the desk lest the wind would blow it away,” Gladys says.
When she got the marks, she said, she could not secure admission to a good high school because she scored lower than the threshold for joining a national school.
SEARCH FOR SCHOOL
She told the Daily Nation that her mother moved from school to school seeking admission for her.
“I luckily joined Mercy Girls Secondary School in Kipkelion, Kericho after sitting for an aptitude test in English, Mathematics and Kiswahili. Many schools were obsessed with high marks, but our headmistress, Sister Josephine Anyango often sought to contextualise performance,” she said, adding that she had even failed the test, but the headmistress exuded a lot of optimism in her improvement.
She said she worked extremely hard throughout her high school journey and managed to emerge the top student in the whole of Kipkelion District in 2008 and won the James Finlay Scholarship that enabled her to join the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology to pursue a Bsc degree in mechanical engineering, scooping a distinction five years later.
In 2013, she was awarded the Babaroa Excellence Award for emerging the best student in her class and also won the Engineer B. K. Kariuki Award for the best student in engineering thermodynamics.
Gladys won the Rhodes Trust Scholarship to pursue a PhD degree in Engineering Science (Aerospace) at the University of Oxford in 2015 where she has combined her academic performance, good leadership skills and sports to earn various recognitions.
In 2016, she was awarded the Tanenbaum Fellowship - an annual competitive fellowship awarded to Rhodes scholars for a multifaceted programme in Israel. She was named the 2018 Skoll World Forum Fellow.
She recently received a patent in collaboration with the Rolls Royce PLC.
Her research work has been featured in top articles that have been distributed across the UK including BBC Science, the Oxford Science Blog and Medium.
Early this year, she was awarded the prestigious ASME IGTI Young Engineer Turbo Expo Participation Award, awarded to young engineers to present a paper they have authored at the annual American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) conference.
Outside her research Gladys teaches engineering undergraduate students at Oriel College.
To inspire girls and women, she co-founded the ILUU Organisation headquartered in Nairobi and was shortlisted for the McKinsey & Company Next Generation of Women Leaders Award.
NO LIMIT TO POTENTIAL
“I want young girls to know that there is no limit to your potential. I scored dismally, was rejected by some schools, became a laughing stock in school for my deep Kalenjin accent, but I still became the top even in the subjects I had failed in. This tells you that one you believe in yourself, nothing can stop you,” the 27-year-old says.
“She is on the path to becoming a leading pioneer in Aerospace Engineering. She has shattered the stereotypes forced upon her and is now an accomplished STEM ambassador seeking to inspire the next generation of female engineers,” the Oxford University profiled her.
“I hope my academic journey resonates with someone. Keep going, give your all (even if your all gives you 298/500 marks!), keep stretching beyond the comfort zone, keep dreaming because no one knows what the future holds. And how I wish more schools would do the unusual and often look beyond the grades in transcripts especially during admission,” Gladys concludes.