Student story: Turning her face to the sun

By Sharlee Dimenichi

From Kenya to Pennsyvlania, one student forges her own path

Following her own blueprint for life led Phoebe Ndege to earn an engineering degree in her native Kenya, then venture to Northampton Community College (Pennsylvania) to major in electromechanical technology. She earned the Lutron Electronics Co. Inc, Scholarship and the Donald B. and Dorothy L. Stabler Scholarship.

Ndege’s father urged her to become a teacher; her mother encouraged her to practice medicine. Ndege took her own path by playing for a Kenyan soccer club that offered student housing and a partial scholarship to study engineering. Her parents eventually paid for the rest of her tuition at Mount Kenya University.

“They saw, ‘this one is not stopping. She is doing this,’” said Ndege.

Ndege hopes eventually to return to her country and establish a solar power plant to generate sustainable electricity for her hometown. She hopes that the electricity would improve public safety, provide light by which students can do homework, and enable residents to watch the news.

She also hopes to inspire other families to support their daughters’ education.

“I want to be an example to parents who think their female kids are only able to get married and give birth,” said Ndege, whose birth family is polygamous.

When Ndege was ten years old, her father allowed her to disassemble some radios he planned to throw away. She excitedly discovered that she could repair the radios without any direction. In primary school, Ndege excelled in science and math. In her secondary school physics lab, Ndege connected wires, batteries, and light bulbs to make working circuits without waiting for the teacher to explain the experiment. She impressed the teacher so much that he gave her a physics book to take home.

Ndege’s gift for engineering combined with her tenacity served her well on the jobs she held after graduation.

“She was outstanding such that she was always the first one to troubleshoot and solve the problems that arose in the course of discharging her duties,” wrote George Otieno, station administrator/operator/technical head of REGEN power plant where Ndege worked as a station operator and maintenance engineer before starting at NCC.

Ndege led a group of visitors from the U.S. on a tour of the power plant where she worked. Talking with one of them inspired her to study in the States. Ndege counted her savings and contacted her cousin who lived in the U.S. The cousin suggested three community colleges, including NCC.

“I’m afraid of failing because I am afraid then I am a laughingstock,” Ndege said.

So she initially kept her plans a secret from family and friends while seeking advice from a Kenyan who attended NCC.

On her first day of class at NCC, Ndege got lost and had to ask security to help her find her classroom. When she got to class, the students were taking an exam for which she had not specifically studied. She took the test using her pre-existing engineering knowledge from university and work at the Regen and Kengen power plants in Kenya. Her professor commended her for her excellent work on the exam.

Her current professors respect Ndege for her courage and passion for knowledge.

“Phoebe is dedicated to learning and to making every effort to improve upon any course content she does not understand or has had difficulties in completing. She has a refreshing attitude towards her coursework,” Professor Robert D. Trate, who teaches electrical construction, wrote in an e-mail.

Ndege’s professor, Robert E. (Rick) Wolff, envisions a lifetime of learning in her future.

“Phoebe is entering into the engineering field at an exciting time, the world is changing. When I attended engineer school many years ago there were very few women in this field, and that is changing quickly…I advise anyone that enters into our higher education system that this is only the beginning of their educational journey, as technology continues to evolve those that want to thrive must continue their studies to remain current,” Wolff wrote in an e-mail.

Ndege plans to graduate in May 2022 and is applying for scholarships to help her earn a bachelor’s degree in the U.S. or another English-speaking country.

This article was originally posted here.

Sharlee Dimenichi

writes for Northampton Community College in Pennsylvania.