Kenyan Woman Who Inked Her Name in The History Books of a US University

  • In August 2018, Fridah Mokaya became the first black female student to attain a PhD in Nuclear Physics from the University of Connecticut, as reported by African Warrior Magazine.

    In an interview with the publication, Fridah expressed her joy at being able to achieve what she held unto as her childhood aspiration, regardless of the obstacles she faced.

    "You might think that coming from nowhere with no connections might stack up against you, but you could say it worked in my favour," Fridah was quoted by AW Magazine.

    "I can now proudly say my name is Fridah Mogoi Mokaya, of course, the doctor (title) being the most recent addition to my name," she added.

    A stock photo of Fridah Mokaya.

    Born and raised in Nairobi and being the second born in a family of five, Fridah attributed her success to the support she was given by her parents and elder siblings who charted out a path for her.

    She attended Pangani Girls High School where she developed a passion for Physics but almost missed out on progressing with the subject after failing to attain the required cut off mark to pursue it in Form Three.

    However, an intervention from her father and physics teacher kept her hopes alive.

    "In Form Three, we had to choose our specializations either in sciences or humanities.  This would be determined by an examination with a cut off mark set at 70 per cent. I remember I scored 68 per cent, narrowly missing the cut off mark for sciences," Fridah revealed.

    "My father did not talk much, he just told the teacher that I was his daughter and he knew me and what I can do and he had no doubt that I will excel in Physics. This was the turning point.

    "My Physics teacher Mr Orinda saw how distressed I was and knowing my potential, told the deputy principal that he had allowed me in the Physics class on condition that I had to perform," she added.

    In her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examination, Fridah scored an A in Physics.

    Fridah was drafted to join the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology to pursue a BSc Physics and after four years, she graduated with a second class lower honour.

    A stock photo of Fridah Mokaya.

    She was heartbroken that despite the long hours and the hard work she had put into her studies she didn't get a first-class honour, however, motivation from her lecturer helped her keep her chin up.

    "I had never felt so distressed in my life. All the arduous work I had put in, including the late nights, for a second class lower?" Fridah wondered. 

    "I remember one of my lecturers (Mr Kamau) told me that no one can ever take what God had planned for you. It was hard to believe that statement at that time because I was very heartbroken," she added.

    Prior to relocating to the US, Fridah worked at a local bank for a period of one year and seven months between January 2007 and August 2008.

    While serving at the bank, she often informed her father of her desire to go back to college for a masters degree in the same field.

    Fridah was motivated by her then-boyfriend, now husband, who had by the time relocated to the US to apply for a masters program in a university there.

    She was accepted to the State University of New York at Binghampton where she pursued an MSc Science degree in Physics between 2008 and 2010.

    "I took a leap of faith and God did it again. I got accepted to Binghamton University (SUNY). I did a master’s degree there and graduated, " Fridah stated.

    After a successful stint at Binghamton, she then applied for a PhD program at the University of Connecticut (UCONN).

    She enrolled at UCONN in late 2010 for her PhD in Experimental Nuclear and Hadronic Physics and was the only black female student in her class.

    "I was the only black Physics PhD female (student) in my department and honestly, I did not focus so much on this, so I never quite felt any different," Fridah told the publication.

    "I had very supportive colleagues who made graduate school awesome," she added.

    And in August 2018, she graduated with a PhD. She currently serves as a graduate assistant at UCONN's Department of Physics.