It is rare to come across a tale of a Kenyan academic whose curriculum vitae includes working in a famous aero-engine construction company. And in this case, the United Kingdom-based Rolls Royce company, also known for its luxury cars.
For Dr Victor Mwongera, a lecturer at Kenyatta University, School of Engineering and Technology, studying abroad and having had a short working stint in the UK motivated him to return to Kenya to impart the same knowledge in students.
In an interview with Daring Abroad on Saturday, September 21, 2019, Mwongere disclosed that he left Kenya for the UK in 2005, after he completed his secondary school studies at Hillcrest Secondary School to enrol for an undergraduate degree in Aerospace Engineering at Bristol University.
"There are two broad areas within the course. Aurenotical and astronautical. Aeronautical is what we see on a daily basis - flying within the atmosphere in an aircraft, helicopters, military jets and anything that happens within the airspace. Astronautical deals with space travel and going past the atmosphere," Mwongere explains.
His dream to build planes was motivated by national holidays where he used to see jets flying in the airspace and constant trips to Wilson Airport where he was flown in 10 minutes trips.
While in the UK, Mwongere found it hard to settle at first but later on adjusted to the new environment. He would also face financial challenges, sometimes sleeping hungry.
"Abroad, there is that culture that when you have challenges in finance, there is no one to actually bail you out or lend you money. When you study in Mombasa or Nairobi, there is someone you know and can kopesha (loan) you," he argued.
"However, they have a lot of exposure, having companies around the university that give students access to their facilities. Such is not seen even in Germany," Mwongere recalled.
The exposure made him realise that his investment would be centred on knowledge creation and research. After completing his undergraduate and postgraduate in 2015, he enrolled for a doctorate degree with a specialisation in drones.
Apart from working at Rolls Royce, he also worked at Augusta company which builds helicopters, and then returned back home to delve into teaching at KU.
"I felt that I had a lot of knowledge in research and I wanted that to be used within Kenya. I wanted to come as a thought leader and influence my opinions within Kenyans and the job market. Our younger generation has made me realise that they are quite able to do a lot of work."
The first aerospace engineering lecturer at KU insists on e-learning and has a dream of seeing Kenya reach its full potential. According to him, the young should be supported and empowered through being taught how to be creative thinkers rather than students who memorise material.
"What I saw being done out there I believe can be done here in Kenya and Africa. It is not easy and cheap but achievable, no reason to go abroad. One thing that I picked from abroad is the exposure which can't really be substituted," the don stated.
His students have constructed drones, and the school managed to equip students, create relations with the army that have created internship opportunities for the students under his stewardship. He is currently focussed on how drones can be utilised in agriculture.
Video: Chams Media TV
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