*By Lynn Mugodo – Akili Dada Intern & Senior at Binghamton University

“I wish we’d had this when I was growing up.”

This statement has been mentioned twice this year – both times at an Akili Dada career symposium with the most recent one taking place this month at Riara University. Hearing this from mentors and speakers who have already firmly established themselves in their respective careers, makes you wonder what they would have done differently if they’d had the equivalent of an Akili Dada career symposium when they were in high school. Where might they be now if they’d known that getting a certain grade at the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education, the national exam that in effect determines which course one is to pursue at the university, wasn’t necessarily the end of a particular dream. That the things they’d always loved but never thought of as “work” could be viable careers, or that having a plan B in life is essential – because life doesn’t always work out how we plan and the glow of idealism can quickly pale in the face of reality. It is thoughts like these that gave birth to the theme for this month’s symposium: “Career Expeditions for the 21st Century”.

The 21st century has been one of globalization, technological innovation, and social entrepreneurship. In order to remain competitive in the ever-changing global job market, it is important to think outside the box and be one step ahead of your peers. The various speakers, panelists, and mentors at this year’s symposium shed light on how the soon to be high school graduates could set themselves up for success in their respective fields of interest.

We kicked off the session with Miriam Ngolo, a plant manager at Bamburi Cement – one of the largest cement producers in sub-Saharan Africa. There is growing concern that the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) field is being dominated by men, and as a woman working in the cement industry, Miriam served as a voice encouragement for the girls who may be afraid to venture into careers within this sector. Although this field was not Miriam’s first career choice, an internship after high school opened her up to this world of opportunities which has led to her current success. It is evident that Miriam’s life is a testimony to the fact that a push away from your field of interest could ultimately be a push in the right direction. Overall, Miriam’s story challenged the girls to have an open mind when they don’t achieve their desired outcome, to grab opportunities that are presented to them, and most importantly for them not be intimidated by fields that are male-dominated.

The subsequent panel made up of Alice Kande – acting head of department for the school of business at the Riara University, Emma Omulokoli – dean of students at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Lilian Muguonko – head of career and placement services at the United States International University and Imran Vaghoo founder and current CEO of American Higher Education Consulting continued to shed light on the importance of breaking away from the norm in order to remain competitive in the global job market. The panelists highlighted the fact that as young women, the Dadas should not feel constrained by the gender norms set out by society. So, as they start to identify their career paths they should base it solely on their passion and interest in that field. Additionally, the speakers encouraged the girls to be entrepreneurs in whatever field they venture into. Taking business classes on top of their respective degree can set the girls apart in their careers. Finally, the panelists emphasized the fact that the important thing to do in this global job market is to equip yourself with the knowledge that already exists and find a way to do even more with this knowledge.

With the lessons learned from the keynote speaker and the panelists, the girls were given the opportunity to interact with mentors within their field of interest through the career cafes. Representatives were present from nine different fields which included journalism, health sciences, finance, development, and STEM, amongst others. These intimate sessions concluded the day and gave the girls a synopsis of into what could possibly be their future careers.

Photo credits: Riara University