Meet the first black woman from Kenya to get a PhD in Nuclear Physics from the University of Connecticut

Dr Mokaya achieved the feat despite nearly missing her career in Physics

The Pangani Girls High school alumnus said in an interview that the feat did not come easily given that she nearly missed her career in Physics.

Dr Mokaya scored 68% in Physics, narrowly missing the 70% cut off mark for sciences.

It took her dad's intervention to have her teacher allow her carry on with the subject on condition that she would perform.

"My Physics teacher Mr. Orinda, saw how distressed I was and knowing my potential told the deputy principal that he had allowed me in the Physics class on condition that I had to perform. Let’s just say that I worked hard and it paid off. I got an “A” in Physics when I sat for my KCSE exam," she told the African Warrior Magazine.

Dr Mokaya later enrolled at theJomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya to pursue a Bachelor of science degree in Physics.

Second class honours

However, despite four years of arduous work, fate was still not on Dr Mokaya's side as she graduated with a Second Class Honours, lower division.

"I had never felt so distressed in my life."

However, after working for as a banker for seven months, Dr Mokaya was persuaded by her boyfriend-turned-husband to enrol for a masters degree at Binghamton University (SUNY) where she was accepted.

She did a master’s degree (M.Sc. Physics) and soon after graduating,  she applied for a PhD Program at the University of Connecticut in 2010.

Dr Mokaya recalls that 2 years after getting a daughter, the task became more strenuous.

"So here I had to balance being a mum, a wife and a PhD student. Honestly this was not an easy task....I thank God for my husband. He has been the best support system."

PhD journey

"I recognized that I wanted to be a scientist at an early age and as soon as I learned to be a scientist is a profession like any other, I promised to do whatever it takes to get that which my heart wanted."

Dr Mokaya noted that a dedicated support system is very vital in a PhD journey adding that it can get stressful sometimes.

"I was the only black Physics PhD female (student) in my department and honestly, I did not focus so much on this, so I never quite felt any different. I had very supportive colleagues who made graduate school awesome."

She concluded by saying: “I want everyone to know that anyone can achieve anything you want in life… Challenges along the way should propel you to keep going and not discourage you.”

“If I could influence more women to pursue STEM related subjects, then I will be the happiest person.”


Eyewitness? Submit your stories now via social or: