This article was written aimed at helping the freshmen in the engineering school of the University of Nairobi to settle and navigate through campus. We, however, believe that the truths documented here are applicable by any student in any field of study.
I remember how excited I was on the 4th of September 2016, on a very cold Nairobi morning. I was on cloud nine when I reported as a first-year in Mechanical Engineering high on joy, expectations, goals and aspirations and could not wait for my first class to begin. After all I was in the best university in East Africa which boasts of providing scholarly excellence.
It did not take me too long before some reality checked in. My naivety was replaced with worry when I learnt that 30,000 graduates hit the job market yearly in a country ailing from unemployment. Besides this, we have a corporate world that keeps complaining of university graduates that come out of campus only half baked. On top of this, the high-class university education was not exactly the standard I had thought it would be with the university marred with lecturers’ strikes and an education not so quality to match the 21st-century skills we require. Any student can easily notice the Rift Valley of a gap between what we learn in class and what is expected of us in the industry. All this is happening in a country that either constantly employs the old or exploits the youth.
Do I regret my four years at the University of Nairobi? Not at all! Despite all the challenges, I have come to appreciate the tremendous advantage of being a student in a place that has specifically curated opportunities for me to advance my life. Many of us only whine and play victim for too long and in the process we blind ourselves to the opportunities that this article will shed light on. We were told that the key to success is education. However in this fast-paced technologically advancing age, the locks have been changed. So you have to have with you many keys to increase the probability of hitting the jackpot! The university presents to you many keys on a silver platter.
This article discusses four ‘opportunities’ you could utilize while in campus;
- Personal Life
- Professional Bodies
- Public University Learning
- People Around You
It all starts with you! What do you want to do? What are your career goals? Where do you want to work? What skills do you require to work where you want? Are these skills being offered in the program you are currently in? If not, how will you acquire them? Come up with your career plan, write it down and pursue it with every ounce of energy you have. Track your progress and upgrade where necessary.
Life in campus offers you two luxuries – time and internet connection. Upskill! Create time and learn the skills you require. As an engineering student, don’t you dare graduate without the skills of programming, graphic design and engineering simulation and modeling solutions respective to your field. Coursera, Udemy, LinkedIN Learning and Canva are just a few examples of resourceful online learning platforms that you could use.
The truth is, the ageing workforce will have to be replaced someday. Will you be ready when this time comes?
To bloom where you’re planted, you will need all the correct information in your respective field. Professional bodies are not only a laden quarry to mine this data, but they also offer leadership experience, opportunities for self-awareness and mentorship platforms.
I have served in Engineering Students Association for three years through conference organizing, magazine publishing, design work, report writing and more. ESA does these and more activities which help to model what the corporate world looks like and expects. Participating in these student-run engagements gives you corporate world experience at first hand and equips you with skills you won’t necessarily learn in class – competence, experience, adaptability, empathy, team work, social skills, self-regulation..
ESA together with very active departmental professional bodies (GESA, ACES, SEES, MESA and EBESA) also hold engineering talks, conferences, diners, industrial visits and trainings to bridge the skill gap between the industry and school. Attending all these events allows you not only grow skill-wise but to also network with students ahead of you, with the same vision and goals as you and who could become great mentors.
IEK and EBK are professional engineering bodies that have a lot of student engagements to prepare them for the outside world. To be a practicing engineer you will have to register with the Engineers Board of Kenya as it acts as the regulatory agency for engineering activities. The Institution of Engineers of Kenya exists to make your life as an engineer easy by sharing quality information on engineering related matter and also hold conferences and seminars that prove effective building up engineering knowledge and skill.
Professional bodies also include the companies you desire to work in. Track them down in social media and keep a close eye on them. Attend all the events they organize. Learn all you need to know about the kind of employees they are looking for. I think this is the only group of people you are allowed to stalk. Apply for all internship opportunities they offer. Right from first year, turn all your long holidays into professional experience.
Public/Private University Learning
Even with all the challenges the Kenyan education system is facing, there is still need to take your education very seriously. It’s going to be a pain landing that dream job if you have failing grades. Excelling in your academics not only reveals competence in the field you are in, but it also shows how easily teachable you are and how fast you will transition into the workforce.
Therefore don’t miss classes, study early, obtain past examination questions and do lots of practice. Read all the reference books provided by the lecturer and consult with them. DO ALL YOUR ASSIGNMENTS, CATS AND EXAMS.
Read widely. Don’t spend all your time on social media. Follow TED-Talks, read the ESA Magazine and other journals in your field. Find out what is happening around you. Then you will be able to see the challenges that need solving. University students have access to lots of opportunities and platforms to showcase their innovative minds. The University of Nairobi’s Office of Career Services sends countless of emails with myriads of opportunities and competitions to plug in to. As early as first year, dive into these competitions with that innovative idea you have. You may or may not win, but the experience of packaging an idea and pitching it to an unbiased third party is timeless.
People around You
Eliud Kipchoge required the pace setters to shield him from oncoming air resistance allowing him to break the two hour mark. In the past ten years Lebron James has made nine NBA Finals appearances with much needed help from Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh (Miami Heat), Kyrie and Kevin Love (Cleveland Cavaliers), AD and Rondo (LA Lakers). You could also correctly observe the rise of Serena and Venus Williams and how they pushed each other to succeed.
We do need each other. Surround yourself with people who will build you up, challenge you, encourage you and share in the vision and goals you have. Make sure you also build up these people you choose to be around you, it’s the only way iron sharpens iron.
The community you live in or come from also provides various opportunities. Get in those volunteer hours. Start a business that solves community problems. There is a kind of experience that only community will teach.
The rain defines the umbrella. It gives it its meaning and purpose. The umbrella becomes worthless without the rain. A burden even. Do not be like an umbrella by letting ONLY education define you. Am I saying that if you do all these practical things you will land your dream job immediately and never tarmac in your life? Not at all. All I’m saying is that without experience, a defined skill set and probably at least an idea of an alternative source of income, you will be at a far much worse place. This time you have in campus is very short. Something scarce is valuable. Once it is gone, it’s gone. Value this time.
We were told that the key to success is education. However in this fast-paced technologically advancing age, the locks have been changed. So you have to have with you many keys to increase the probability of hitting the jackpot!