“I am so grateful to be a teacher”, Dr. Linda Nkirote Kimencu

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Dr. Linda Nkirote Kimencu has PhD degree in Education and Leadership Studies from West Virginia University, USA with specialization in Leadership, Higher Education, Entrepreneurial education, and Management. Nowadays she is the lecturer at Kenyatta University in the school of Business, Economics, and Tourism. Below is the detailed interview with her.

 

Andika Magazine: Who is Dr. Linda Nkirote Kimencu? What’s her story?

Dr. Linda Kimencu: Dr. Linda Kimencu is an education enthusiast. I am so grateful that I get to do something that I love every day. I teach in the university, although, honestly I feel I can teach anyone and anywhere. I teach in almost all the spheres I find myself in whether in school, in the church or even at home. I find myself teaching anything that I get to learn. I am so grateful to be a teacher.

Although I do love teaching, it didn’t come easily. The first time I joined the university for my undergraduate studies to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, a lot of people thought that I was pursuing an education degree (I guess people who study education have a certain aura around them), at the time, I didn’t fancy being in the education field as most young people can tell you, education is not one of the best paying jobs in my country. So, I didn’t take it as a compliment and I was keen to correct anyone who confused me to be a teacher. I definitely had not known myself neither had I known my calling by then. I did my first and second degree in Business Administration and by God’s grace I went to do a doctoral program in the USA. This is when I began tracing my gifting in education. A journey that I am most grateful to God for.

 

Andika Magazine: When you were chosen for teaching at Kenyatta University, how did you feel?

Dr. Linda Kimencu: I got my appointment letter to teach in Kenyatta University while I was in a lecture room teaching Tests and Measurements course to fourth year students at my previous institution: Kenya Methodist University, which happens to also be my alma mater. The appointment letter was sent as a document through WhatsApp. I was thrilled!  I had always loved to teach in a big university. My previous institution is a private university, and so I was excited to be joining a public university in the country.

 

Andika Magazine: What does look like to go to study to the USA, at West Virginia University?

Dr. Linda Kimencu: When I count my blessings, I count the blessing of studying abroad and more specifically West Virginia University thrice. I went to study in the USA to join my fiancé who was also a student in West Virginia University at the time.  I joined the school of Education and Leadership as it was aligned with my degree in Business Administration and I immediately felt at home.

What I loved most about the American higher education system that I hope I brought back with me, was the ability to simplify complex information without dumbing it down. This was a trait that I had not found in most of the classrooms in my home country and I promised myself, that when I finish my graduate studies, that I could come back home and try to simply complex information and especially in data analysis.

My college Professor Dr. Reagan Curtis, taught us Statistics both basic and advanced statistics in a manner that made me not only understand the complex field of statistics but also love and yearn to teach it to others (which I eventually did in my Alma Mater Kenya Methodist University). One of the books that he used during his classes was titled: “Statistics for people who (think, they) hate statistics” by Neil J. Salking. That book resonated with me fully. I was one of those people who thought they hated statistics because of how it was delivered in my previous institutions. Suddenly concepts like standard deviation that were so foggy became clearer and I soon became one of the best statistics students in the class.

 

Andika Magazine: When you reached the USA, was it easy to be familiar to the life conditions from there?

Dr. Linda Kimencu: When I got to the USA, I was exhilarated. Despite being on a 15 hour flight from my country. It was my very first time to fly on an airplane, and so everything was different from the word go.

Life conditions in the USA were significantly different from my home country. The first shock that I got, although my uncle had informed me prior, was the different time zones and weather changes. Despite, having been informed of the differences in time zones as I was coming from the tropics and travelling in a temperate climatic condition, nothing had got me prepared of having the sun set at 9 o’clock in the night during the summer season. I arrived in the USA on 23rd July and the weather was as hot as it can get. The temperatures were ranging around 90 Fahrenheit, which is equivalent to 32 degree Celsius. This compared to the highest temperature in Nairobi, Kenya that ranges at around 26 degree Celsius, it was quite extreme.  July is considered one of the coldest months of the year and so I travelled having ganged myself up with all the warm clothing that I could find, only to get to the US and find the weather astonishingly hot. It wasn’t only hot, but humid too. That was very different from home. These changes continued happening on the weather front, as there were times we could have the clock adjusted forward or backward to change for day light saving. For a period of around two years, I was still getting lost in the change of the clock.

The USA is a highly diverse country. I met and made friends from all kinds of nationalities. I got to make friends from West and South Africa, China, India, Middle East, Europe and Americans. I learned about the Red Indians, an ethnic group that I only got to learn about, when I interacted with some of my classmates in the education classes.  One thing that I truly admire about the American culture through the years that I got to spend my time there was their value for independence.

Truly the USA is the land of the free and the home of the brave. Everyone expects you to be able to do everything for yourself. This was very different from the culture in my home country where you can find an attendant for almost every service that you would want. When I got to the USA, I landed with my feet on the run as I had to quickly join in the classes during the Fall semester, I also began working within the university cafeteria at first, then worked in the resident halls and later I got a graduate assistantship position on my student visa that restricted the number of hours one would work on campus. Before long, I was required to have a driving license and ensure that I am paying utility bills as a confirmation of my residency.  Life was indeed fast. I felt like I was whirling on the first lane, and sure I was, as I had to balance student life, work life and family life.

The USA and more specifically West Virginia University afforded me the opportunity to study for my doctorate in Educational Leadership through the Minority Students Program. I am forever indebted to the institution for extending the grace for me to be able to study on full scholarship which was no mean feat. Thank you WVU, I am forever grateful.

 

Andika Magazine: How and when have you been working at Kenyatta University?

Dr. Linda Kimencu: I began working in Kenyatta University in 2014 in the school of Business, Economics, and Tourism as a lecturer. Next year I will turn One decade (Ten years) of working in Kenyatta University.

 

Andika Magazine: When you started your career as a teacher at Kenyatta University, how did you feel? What does look like to be a university teacher?

Dr. Linda Kimencu: Life as a university lecturer is fulfilling. As a University Lecturer you are expected to be knowledgeable.  A university lecturer is expected to not only be a custodian of knowledge but a transmitter of one. As a university lecturer, it is expected that you read and read widely so that you are knowledgeable enough to guide your students. Most students are not of the traditional age as there are those in our classrooms who have extensive experience in their various careers and you must be in a position to engage with them and add value to their careers by what you teach in class.

In addition to teaching, as anyone in academia will tell you, research is king. In some institutions, the mantra states: “publish or perish”, one has to do research either as an individual or collaboratively with other members of staff or students.  For you to excel as a researcher you must have a curious mind that seeks to find answers to societal problems. You must also have a keen eye for literature so as to establish the gaps that have not been addressed by prior studies.

So, in addition to teaching and research, the third most important job for a lecturer is community service. As a university lecturer, you are expected to provide positive contribution to your community by actively engaging in activities that will promote the livelihoods of the community members.  Working as a University lecturer I believe is one of the most fulfilling and legacy building careers that we have. You get to mold the lives of young people through training, influence policy through research and impact the community through service. I guess it can’t get better than that.

 

Andika Magazine: Is it easy for a woman like you? How does it look like with the family tasks?

Dr. Linda Kimencu: Oh, Gender and Gender roles…In all honesty, I would lie if I said that being a woman has limited my career as a lecturer. Of course, there are instances where as a family person you are hindered from participating fully as probably you take time off for your family, especially when you have young children. But all I can say, is that I have been fortunate to have had a reliable and sound support system. This is where I get to applaud my husband who is also an academician like me, we have not had issues to do with gender and gender roles in getting in the way of each of us attaining our greatest and highest potential. I would encourage the men, to support their wives in all the fields so that gender roles do not become a hindrance to anyone giving and doing their best.

Besides, coming back to teach in my home country, has enabled us to get help from family, friends, sometimes even strangers in family upbringing. For sure, it takes a village to raise a family in Africa.  As a woman academician, I believe we are growing towards a more equal society where one’s gender should not come in the way of their productivity and growth. However, I am not oblivious of the fact that we are yet to have gender parity in various sectors in our country. Still, we have young girls in some places being married off very early hence limiting their career growth, we also have had disparities in educational outcomes of the different genders. We are now hearing statements supporting the “boy child” as some claim that we are neglecting the boys and putting a lot of focus on the girls. So, in as much as there has been calls for gender equality, the different countries should pursue gender justice, in which gender whether male or female should not come in the way on one reaching their greatest and highest potential.  All gender should matter when it comes to progression and growth.

 

Andika Magazine: What could the African youth, eager to be successful in life, would learn from your journey, especially your passion and vision?

Dr. Linda Kimencu: I have a heart for the African Youth. I think one thing that we all need to do is to define what a successful life looks like for the African Youth. Success has become one of those fad names that sometimes mean different things to different people, and that is perfectly okey. So the first thing that the African youth should do, is to define the word “success” what is success? Who defines it? What defines it? What does it constitute? How does one know when they have attained it? How is it measured? Asking these questions is very important for every youth regardless of race, nationality, creed etc. Well, because we are living in an age where success is measured by the images that are flashed on the social media pages like Instagram.  A successful life is defined by say the material possessions that one has, or the fame or power that one can command etc. All these measures are not utterly wrong, however, I think they put undue pressure to our young people because success is always measured by things that are outside one self. But what I could term as a successful life, is a life lived to its fullness. A successful life to me is a fulfilled, balanced, holistic life. A life where your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing are at a balance, because those are things that are within you. No one can take them away from you.

So, what I hope to teach those younger than me would be that they get to know their purpose and their reason for being. There is a reason why you are here. There is a reason the creator of the universe found you worth being alive, I guess the greatest assignment that each of us has to accomplish is to find out why they are here. To find out your purpose. To not just pursue a successful life but more a life of significance. To make your life count, to live a purpose driven life. Now, when it comes to doing this, you have to be patient. You don’t get to know your purpose immediately, sometimes it could take years before you are really sure on what your purpose is, but that should not discourage you. The way to do it is to just keep moving, keep living, keep learning, keep loving, and be curious on who you really are, before you know it, you will have figured out what is it that gives you the flow. Flow is the state in which you are at harmony with what you are doing, you enjoy it so much you don’t need any external validation to keep doing it. That is the flow. That could make up part of your purpose in this life. Keep pursuing it.

There is also the power in visioning. In one of my kidpreneur classes I teach young kids to draw a vision board. Anyone can draw a vision board whether at 6, 15, 20, 40, or even 80 years old. A vision board helps you to dream. It helps you to engage the highest level of human intelligence: Imagination. So, my advice for young people is to keep growing their imagination. I will re-iterate a Bible Verse from the Book of 1st Timothy 4:12 Paul’s advice to his mentee Timothy “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to them than believe in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity”  Being Young is a gift, do not trash it! Treasure your youthfulness and seek to be useful.

 

Andika Magazine: What was your dream when you were still a kid? Did you achieve it?

Dr. Linda Kimencu: My dream as a kid… I am trying to remember; did I have any dream? I am not quite sure. Actually one question that I really hated from the adults whom I interacted with was “what do you want to become when you grow up” That question didn’t make sense to me, it doesn’t still. I always kept guessing the intention of the person asking and I would try and answer it to please them, so I could say things like doctor, engineer, at some point I even said I wanted to be a news anchor. But, the first time I felt like I knew the answer to that question was when I learned to drive at 16 years old. I was so thrilled by my driving exercise, I thought I could be a Safari driver ( A professional driver guard).

Anyhow, I guess I got the perfect answer to that question when I read Michelle Obama’s book on “Becoming” I realized we are always becoming, today I might be a university Lecturer, but in five years’ time I could become someone else, and so that gives me the optimism, fluidity and flexibility to keep growing and evolving. So if my dream was to be a driver, yes, I achieved. I am a very good and fast driver 😀

 

Andika Magazine: How did you fall in love with entrepreneurship?

Dr. Linda Kimencu: Entrepreneurship! This big word I interacted with it the first time when I joined my undergraduate class at KeMU. The entrepreneurial lecturer stated that an entrepreneur is a person who has a third eye. That metaphor stuck with me. I didn’t see to understand it, but anytime I met someone whom I considered an entrepreneur I was keen to see if they indeed had the 3rd eye. I come from an entrepreneurial family, and I was inspired by my parents’ resilience and keenness in seeing and pursuing opportunities. Although I really didn’t know the science behind entrepreneurship.

I came to know to my amusement that indeed becoming an entrepreneur is a science. A science in that there are proven tested ways of becoming one. When I began teaching entrepreneurship in Kenyatta University, we had the opportunity to go through various entrepreneurial programs as part of retooling. So My aha! moment in entrepreneurship came when I learned a new concept that had demystified the world of entrepreneurship called “Effectuation”. A researcher by the name Sara Sarasvathy had developed the five principles of effectuation.  She developed a theory of effectuation in 2001 that describes the approach to make decisions and take actions in entrepreneurship process. What stood out for me is that entrepreneurship is a problem solving exercise. So it is the process of solving problems with what you have, who you know, what you know, and how much you are willing to loose. I understood that we are all entrepreneurs by the sense that we have a mindset of solving problems innovatively using the resources at hand. This key information, lit a light bulb within me and after teaching it to first year students for a while, I began looking for ways in which this knowledge could be cascaded to younger people in high school and primary schools. In 2021, I won the Kenyatta University VC grant that I used to begin developing content on entrepreneurship for young people in high schools. The project is at pilot stage and by God’s grace we will be able to reach more young learners with entrepreneurial content.

Andika Magazine: Some young African leaders from about 14 countries have been enjoying your teachings throughout the YALI RLC EA programs? Based on your experience as a trainer and a specialist, how Leadership, Higher Education, Entrepreneurial education, and Management can be instilled in African young leaders so that to advance the African Economy?

Dr. Linda Kimencu: One of the greatest things that has happened to me in the last one and half years is to be a trainer to the greatest minds that we have among the young people in the fourteen countries in East and Central African region through the YALI RLC-EA center. This has been one of my greatest highlights for this season. I have learned so much from the young people more than you can imagine.

First and Foremost as I keep telling the YALI participants is that finally through the YALI program, we have found the key to unlock all issues in Africa. A while back, I could count the number of people that I know from all the other continents yet I didnt know a handful of people from my continent Africa. What YALI has done, is that it has opened that door so that Africans can relate to their fellow Africans and that’s where the magic begins.

The one thing I wish can be instilled in the African Young Leaders is the attitude of taking initiative. I guess one thing that we all must appreciate is that we are no longer waiting for anyone to come and save us, actually, we can all say “ We are the ones we have been waiting for”, to every Young African Leader out there, my message to you is that “You are the one You/We have been waiting for”  Another statement that I hope every young leader can have in their heads constantly could be “ If it has to be, it has to be me”, if anything has to be, the person to actually make it happen is the person who has seen the need for it.

So, taking intiative, being agile, in Kiswahili, we have a word that is mostly used by young people: “Kujituma”. This means sending yourself or rather putting that extra effort. As African Young Leaders we have to accept to “send ourselves” quite literally. Get out there! Be counted! Live! Take the initiative.Period! Something I am constantly reminding myself is that I am not playing safe for anyone. So, Let’s not play Safe. Get out There! Do Something! Be Counted! Live!

 

Andika Magazine: Most of the African youth want to be where you did your PhD (America). What would tell or urge them so as to be successful?

Dr. Linda Kimencu  I would tell them: “Go for it” Yes, seriously just go for it! It pays off. It truly does. It is even better when you do it away from home, so if an opportunity comes your way to go study abroad please grab it! Opportunities sometimes do not knock twice.

What I could advise the young person seeking to go abroad for further studies is be flexible, be easy, be adaptable, be quick to learn, be curious, flow like a river. We learn so many lessons from a river, rivers flow over, through and around the rocks depending on the circumstances. Look out for opportunities for scholarships, there are many institutions that are looking to sponsor creative and youthful minds. Don’t be afraid to navigate around new courses or programs. Be willing to learn from everyone and everything.  Utilize your time in your new country to learn as much as possible, learn new cultures, gain a new skill, get new friends, attend conferences, interact with the communities, give back to the community that you are in, assimilate yourself into their culture in one way or another. But also remember Africa needs you. Go, learn, unlearn, and relearn, then come and teach others.

Andika Magazine: What would you advise and urge young African women especially teachers who’s their role is to train and educate those who will be role models in the society?

Dr. Linda Kimencu: Teach what you would wish you were taught. Teach in a way that you wish your children were taught. Teaching is such a noble profession as you are touching the minds of the people. Teachers, touch the mind. But for one to touch the mind, you must touch the heart. It is said, people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. People learn from people they like. So take care of the hearts. Touch the hearts of your learners through being authentic and vulnerable. Know you are not a custodian of knowledge but a facilitator of knowledge. Be humble to know that no one is born an empty slate, but each of us comes with an unlit candle and it is the work of a teacher to ensure that we light each other’s candles till we set ignorance ablaze.  A good teacher flames the passion in your heart. A good teacher is not the one who shows you how to do something, but one who empowers you enough to know what needs to be done. A good teacher helps illuminate the greatness in you.

As a woman leader and teacher, your gender is your strength not your limitation. Leverage on who you are fully.

 

Andika Magazine: Thank you, Dr. Linda Kimencu,

Dr. Linda Kimencu: Thank you. I hope this inspires someone to be more and to do more! Cheers.

Interview by Melchisedeck Boshirwa

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