JKUAT: A Splendid University
A True Story
on Nov 8, 2023
For quite a long time, my biggest high school disappointment was not scoring eight 'A's in my KCSE exams. I got six 'A's and two 'A-'s, which made me miss appearing in the list of "Highest Academic Honors" that was printed on a board in the assembly hall of Starehe Boys' Centre, my alma mater. (Only those Starehe students who scored eight 'A's had their names on that list.)
Robert Mugo, the bright and adorable lad with whom I reported to Starehe on the same day, made it into that list of "Highest Academic Honors". So did Kennedy Munene, another bright chap. It is worth noting that Kennedy and I got the same average marks in KCSE exams but Kennedy had the merit of scoring 'A's in all his eight subjects.
Had I appeared on that list of "Highest Academic Honors", I'd have been very proud of it. I'd have gone back to Starehe to boast about it to current students. And I'd have taken a photo of the list for sharing on social media. If you were my friend, you'd have heard no end of it.
Interestingly, I have never seen or heard Robert Mugo and Kennedy Munene flaunt about their names appearing on that Starehe list of "Highest Academic Honors". Maybe they have been more modest and level-headed than me.
Looking back, I am now glad that I didn't make it to that list because if I had scored eight 'A's in my KCSE exams, I'd have matriculated at the University of Nairobi to pursue a degree in Actuarial Science, a course I missed qualifying for by one point. As it happened, I ended up enrolling at a local university called JKUAT.
The degree course I chose to pursue at JKUAT was Electronics & Computer Engineering. It had a nice ring to it but it wasn't just the name that attracted me to the degree course; I also had a desire to understand how computers work.
On the day I reported at JKUAT in May 2007, I was assigned to stay in a hall of residence called Hall 6. Later on, I learnt that back in 2007, Hall 6 was not for government-sponsored students like me. How I ended up there remains a mystery to me.
I lived in Hall 6 for the three years I was in JKUAT. During my first semester, I stayed with a suave, peaceable and fun-loving roommate named Mikhail Mbelase. I would sometimes criticize Mbelase for some of the things he did in our room but he would take my criticism in good faith.
Then in 2009 before I dropped out of JKUAT, I stayed with a roommate called Zachariah Mokua. Even though Mokua was a humble fellow, he would sometimes offend me by hiding the starter for lighting the fluorescent bulb of our room. Apparently, he didn't want me staying up late into the night as he tried to catch some sleep.
Those conflicts with my roommates notwithstanding, JKUAT was a splendid university during my time there. Besides its praiseworthy learning facilities, its brilliant student body and its delectable food, it also had a rigorous engineering curriculum that forced students to study a lot. That's why I am glad I ended up at JKUAT.
Splendid as JKUAT was, it didn't appeal to me that much. My desire was to study in a more prestigious university in America. So, in my first year at JKUAT, I spent a considerable amount of time applying to four top American colleges.
The wonderful thing was that the subjects I was learning at JKUAT in my first year helped me ace SAT 2, an exam whose results were required by the American colleges I was applying for admission. Even Joseph Mugisha, a friend of mine then at MIT, remarked that my SAT 2 scores were excellent.
And the JKUAT academic calendar dovetailed well with the application time of American colleges. I took my SAT exams on Saturdays when we didn't have classes at JKUAT and sent my applications to the four American colleges shortly after we broke for long holidays at JKUAT in December 2007. Had I been accepted at any of the four American colleges in March and April 2008, I would simply not have reported back to JKUAT in May 2008 for my second year.
Although I didn't finish my engineering degree at JKUAT, I somewhat enjoyed the three years I was there. I made some friends who have remained close buddies to this day. And I got to experience how campus life is like. If you are a Kenyan student looking for a university with a strong background in science, technology, engineering and math, I'd recommend JKUAT!
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed reading the above story on JKUAT, you might also enjoy another one titled "JKUAT: Kenya's MIT" which I wrote more than six years ago. Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.
Sharing is CaringLike this story? Then share it on:
The Mighty Chaka House
A True Story
on Nov 3, 2023
Starehe Boys' Centre, a prestigious institution in Nairobi where I had my high school and college education, has a residential housing system similar to that of Yale University. Once a student is admitted at Starehe, he is assigned to board in a house that he stays in throughout his years at Starehe.
The housing system of Starehe makes life interesting for its students. Houses compete for various awards in music, sports, academics and cleanliness. And students get to form lasting friendships in the houses they reside in.
I very well remember the day I reported at Starehe to begin my high school education. It was on the afternoon of Thursday, 17th January 2002. Accompanied by my mother, I felt somewhat joyful to be joining the school that had been ranked the best high school in Kenya the previous year.
Because newly admitted students reported to Starehe on different days, we didn't find a long line of boys waiting to be attended. In fact, the only boy I recall reporting with at the same time on that afternoon was Robert Mugo, a bright and adorable lad who grew up to be a doctor.
I must have been eager to don the famous Starehe uniform of red and blue given the way I got irritated by Mum when she delayed taking me to the admissions office to be cleared. As I chatted with Robert Mugo, I felt like yelling at Mum to stop dawdling and have me admitted. If my memory serves me well, Robert Mugo was cleared before me.
Mum's delay in taking me to the admissions office made me get assigned to Chaka House, a dormitory that was named after the Zulu chief who founded South Africa's Zulu Empire in the 19th century. Being taken to Chaka House turned out to be a great blessing, for I ended up making friends in the house who impacted my life positively.
Among the friends I made was Michael Mwangale who served as Chaka captain in 2002. On my first evening in Starehe, Mwangale had me address my fellow housemates. And he once remarked to my brother Paddy, who was also in Starehe, that I was such a good boy.
But what I recollect most about Mwangale were the meetings he held with us first-formers during our first weeks in Chaka. He would give us pieces of advice and share with us his future plans of studying overseas for university education, a dream of his that I have never bothered to find out if he attained.
Another friend I made in Chaka was Jesse Nyoro who was six years my senior. Nyoro was exceptionally kind to me during my first weeks in Starehe in 2002. And three years later, after he had left Starehe, he taught me the traditional Agikuyu folk song that I presented for my KCSE Music exam.
Then there was 'Sir' Emmanuel Karanja, a brilliant housemate a year ahead of me who inspired me to learn computer-programming. Karanja used to carry around hefty books on C++. And he was not even a computer student. Programming was just a part-time hobby of his.
Karanja inspired me to learn computer-programming to an extent that when I was preparing to join the institute division of Starehe in 2006, I was determined to pursue a diploma in Information Technology. Not even my brother Paddy could convince me that studying accounting was better than pursuing a course in information technology.
And then there was Stephen Lenai, a lanky classmate who rose through the leadership ranks to become the Chaka captain in 2005 and 2006. I will always remain indebted to Lenai for making my time at Starehe Institute enjoyable by allowing me to sneak out of school on Sundays to be with my hometown Catholic church youth group.
As a Chaka member, I got to participate in a number of inter-house competitions. Chief among them were the music and volleyball contests. I tutored by house choir in 2004 as well as in 2006 and managed to take it past the preliminary stages in both of those two years.
All those friendships I formed in Chaka and the competitions I took part in made my years in Chaka worthwhile and memorable. Had Mum not delayed in taking me to the admissions office on that unforgettable afternoon I reported at Starehe, I wouldn't have boarded in the mighty Chaka House. It's interesting, isn't it, how small turns of fate can have a profound impact on our lives.
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed reading the above story on the Mighty Chaka House, you might also enjoy another one on "Forswearing Foolish Ways" which I wrote more than six years ago. Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.