One misconception I have always wanted to reverse about JKUAT is the notion some few misguided souls have that it is okay to call us ‘Juja Boys’, that when you come to the University all you see are guys, and guys, and guys. Not a living soul in a skirt, not a lovely voice around, not a priceless flower to bloom in the Juja dust or to brighten the Juja cold. What a sad picture they ignorantly paint. As a proud alumnus of the University, let me today authoritatively ascertain that all that propaganda and idle talk could not be further from the truth. Matter of fact let me be a feminist today and say it is very chauvinistic to think that simply because we are called a University of Agriculture and Technology then ladies can’t make it here or take the courses. What it actually means is that at JKUAT, the ladies that are here are exceptional, the very top cream of the society, and the best God’s good green Earth has to offer. That’s why I never pass a chance to tell a story here about the formidable ladies who have gone through JKUAT.
The year was 2012, the month of September. The dates I’m not so sure. The JKUSO campaigns were raging, and as first year students, very eager to participate in University politics, we were the core targets of the contestants who were vote-hunting. Susan Njoki, popularly known as ‘Sue’ at the time was among the contestants vying for the seat of Academic Secretary which pitched her against one Vincent Ogembo and Davis Fundi. Her charm was unbounded, her determination unrivalled and her charisma peerless. Fast forward to the verdict day, she floored her male counterparts and won. I remember when I interviewed her for this piece I said I’d voted for her, I mean how could I have not, but now that I remember clearly, I actually didn’t. I really should have. But that’s a non-issue.
Susan graduated in 2013 with a Bachelors Degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and ventured into the corporate world to fulfill her share of obligation to humanity. Her Degree in Biochemistry notwithstanding, she went on to work for Baker Hughes, the renowned multinational Oil and Gas Company, in a prestigious position as a Field Engineer. You wonder how, right? I engaged her on her career journey since then, among several other interesting insights.
What has been your career journey this far?
When I started job-hunting after Campus, I got a job with a Pharmaceutical company called Pharma Specialties Limited as their Coastal Representative, but that did not last long. I had earlier made an application with Baker Hughes and they called me around that time for an interview. I knew it was a better opportunity so I went for the interview. When I had applied for the job I had been a bit hesitant since in the Field Engineer position they advertised, they needed someone who had done Engineering or Applied Sciences. When I went for the interview, everyone else had an Engineering Degree except me, but fortunately, I was taken, and I was the only lady taken from Kenya.
So how have you managed to serve as a Field Engineer with your expertise in Biochemistry?
Actually that’s the catch. The Company takes new employees through an intensive training. I was in Dubai for three months, where there were several severe types of training, and from that they see whether you really fit in. There were also exams, both written and practical that require hands-on skills. It was challenging, but not impossible for me because you see Biochemistry is an Applied Science, there was much I carried forward, like the mathematical bit that helped me cruise through the requirements of my new role.
How would you say JKUAT has impacted on your career development apart from the academic provision?
One thing I’m really grateful I did in first year is joining Rotaract Club. Through Rotaract I was able to give back to the community, visit the less fortunate in the society, helping physically challenged children. All these helped me grow as an individual and helped me realize the things I would want to change in the society. With such experiences I have been able to be very adaptive in various environments since as a Field Engineer I have been to several remote areas across the globe. Having been a student leader as Academic Secretary also helped me grow as a wholesome person in terms of being confident, speaking my mind openly, and being able to accept people’s ideas and dealing with difficult situations, which is typical of every work day experience. It has also made me learn a lot of etiquette and interpersonal skills, especially at the work place.
At the time you were venturing into the corporate world, would you say JKUAT had prepared you enough in terms of hands-on skills?
Yes, I would totally agree with that 100 percent because had I just been an academics person, I think I would have come out after four years later as half-baked. You know I actually believe you don’t really come to the University just to study, that’s what you do in Primary or Secondary. In University you discover yourself, you grow yourself and nurture yourself and realize what other things you can do best other than the classroom. So at the end of the day, when it comes to having hands-on skills, the University can only do so much, but the buck ultimately stops with you as an individual.
From your experience, how has it been working in an area the society perceives as a male domain and what has kept you going?
The experience has been exciting but not without challenge. Being a male dominated area, people get this perception that a woman can’t do it. Sometimes out in the field I used to work with tools which are up to twenty five or thirty times my weight and you see people waiting for you to fail, but so far I’ve kept going. For me what keeps me going is my determination because I made up my mind that this is the path my career is going to take, so nothing is going to stop me. Sometimes we go to a remote site and you find there’s only one bathroom, and you know being a lady you’d start flinching. But at the end of the day it boils down to attitude that one has. What I can tell the ladies in this field is to never limit yourself simply because some people think it’s a male area.
So what principle do you live by in each and everything that you do?
Well, my life has not been a bed of roses, I’ve had my hiccups but I never beat myself up. If I do something and it doesn’t go as I expect, I simply get up and keep going. I take a lesson from every experience and always try to see the positive side of things. Basically, I just want to live my God-driven purpose in life.
From your experience as a student leader, what advice can you briefly give to the current or prospective leaders?
What I can say is always set realistic goals. Secondly, for instance when there’s an issue among the students and they are enraged, always maintain your sobriety in handling such situations. Do not approach the administration when you’re angry and having a hard stance. No one listens to an angry unrealistic person. You should find your balance, find the right way approaching every party, and always stand by your word.
What were some of your most cherished moments in JKUAT?
Every Saturday morning we would go to an orphanage at St. Monica’s to mingle and interact with the children. I miss that, especially because nowadays I barely have time. And I can advise the students to use their time wisely and for productive causes, because once you’re out here you barely have time for anything. I also miss the cheap life in Juja, especially the food.
If you were to go back in time and become a student again, what would you do differently?
I would appreciate more all those little moments and make use of every tiny opportunity that is attached to being a JKUAT student. Some of the things we may take for granted when you’re with your friends, service in the University are in real sense very precious.
As a lady, what advice would you give to the ladies currently in Campus based on the experience you’ve had so far, both in Campus and in the corporate world?
One thing I would tell them is don’t limit yourself, don’t settle for anything that you think is less, and for those doing courses that are not maybe Engineering or a Science, do not be misguided to think it is less or not important. At the end of the day, the degree is just a paper. It’s what you do with it that matters. Another thing is, value your friendships in Campus, they are very important. This is what you carry with you into life, and once you’re out there, even if one of you earns more than the other or your lifestyles begin to change, never break the bonds of friendship. Lastly for those in serious relationships, trust God and pray to make them work because out there finding a good partner is difficult because you don’t know someone’s true personality. In Campus you see each other often and you can know who someone really is; their faults, strengths and you can decide whether you can live with that or not. So for those in good relationships, hang in there and keep pushing.
What plans do you have with your career going forward?
Currently I am planning to come back to school, JKUAT to be precise and pursue a Masters Degree in Occupational Safety and Health and I also plan to venture into consultancy, especially in matters environmental safety.