Wakiuru Wamwara, associate professor of marketing in Wright State University’s Raj Soin College of Business, has won a prestigious Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship and will spend the summer in her native Kenya training university faculty in mentoring graduate students.
The Fellowship program, which has funded 169 Fellows since it began in 2013, sends African-born scholars who are currently teaching at American or Canadian universities to Africa for up to 90 days to work with faculty at African institutions on curriculum development, research and graduate teaching, training or mentoring activities. Similar to the Peace Corps and Fulbright programs, it is designed to harness the expertise of Africa-born Fellows in North America to improve higher education standards in Africa.
Wamwara came to college in the United States because there were many more educational opportunities than in Kenya. While Kenya has more institutions of higher learning today than it once did, the country still loses much of its young talent to foreign countries.
Wamwara grew up in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, a city of more than 3 million people and home to African Nazarene University and KCA University. As a Fellow, she will work with these two universities this summer by holding seminars on research methodology and developing modules to train early career faculty on graduate student mentoring.
African Nazarene is an affiliate of the U.S.-headquartered Church of the Nazarene Colleges and Universities around the world. KCA is a flagship university founded by the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya. The school’s graduates top Kenya’s professional accounting exams and provide the country with most of its highly qualified accountants.
Wright State’s accounting graduates have a 72 percent pass-rate on the CPA exam — 25 percent higher than the national average. Wamwara said a partnership with the two Kenyan schools fits Wright State’s mission to enhance professional, entrepreneurial, economic and social progress.
While in Kenya, Wamwara will work to create and deepen ties between Wright State, Aftrican Nazarene and KCA. She hopes the fellowship can lead to faculty and student exchanges.
“Future collaborations between these institutions will undoubtedly enable our students and faculty to experience our inherent connectedness and is consistent with WSU’s commitment to diversity and belief that each member of humanity has a potential contribution to make to the whole,” said Wamwara.
Nairobi is the regional headquarters of many global companies such as General Electric, IBM, Google, CISCO Systems, Citibank and Coca-Cola, which see Africa’s youth and rapidly growing middle class as the next growth opportunity.
Wamwara obtained her bachelor’s degree in computer science from LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis, her MBA in management information systems and marketing from Vanderbilt University and her Ph.D. in business administration from the University of Memphis.
In 2003, she joined the faculty at Wright State, where she is an associate professor of marketing in the Raj Soin College of Business and teaches courses in international marketing, consumer behavior, market research and principles of marketing. She was attracted to Wright State because it offered a balance of teaching and research as well as many international opportunities.
Wamwara is inspired by Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmental political activist who was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Over the course of her career, Wamwara and other Kenyan diaspora business faculty have mentored master’s and doctoral students at Kenyan universities. She hopes to have a strong mentoring system in place at African Nazarene and KCA by the time she returns to Wright State in the fall.
Wamwara, who also mentors students at Wright State, is the adviser for the Wright State chapter of the Association of Black Business Students. She also served as the faculty adviser to the American Marketing Association Chapter for four years.
On mentorship, “First of all, you want to be their champion,” she said. “Secondly, you want to help them figure out their future themselves and give them the confidence to achieve their goals.
In recognition of her expertise, Wamwara was invited to give a keynote speech at the first African International Business and Management Conference hosted by the University of Nairobi. She has also conducted research studies on/in Kenya and presented her findings at conferences in Kenya and at the annual Kenya Scholars and Studies Association conferences in the United States, where she has also helped to mentor Kenyan graduate students in North America.
The fellowship is offered by the Institute of International Education in partnership with the United States International University-Africa and is funded by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The institute manages and administers the program while U.S. International University-Africa provides it with strategic direction through Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, its president.
Wamwara says she could not have won the fellowship without the support of Joanne Li, dean of the Raj Soin College of Business, who in her recommendation noted that Wamwara would be a strong cultural ambassador for the college and university.