In this week’s edition of #AlumoftheWeek, we take a turn to Kenya, where AIMS Ghana 2020 and AIMS-ESMT Industry Immersion Program alumna – Rachael Katwa Kyalo walks us through her journey before an AIMS education and life after that.
Q: Tell us about yourself and your journey to AIMS.
Rachael: Before joining AIMS, I had an undergraduate study in Mathematics and computer science specializing in Statistics from the Taita Taveta University, Kenya. After my undergraduate, I didn’t know my next step; I was lost. I didn’t even know what to do with a degree in Mathematics, and then an angel in the form of an AIMS alumna came my way. She commended the AIMS program and encouraged me to apply.
Q: How would you describe your time at AIMS?
Rachael: My life entirely changed when I joined the AIMS program; I found direction and defined my career and professional goals. AIMS strengthened my programming skills, introduced me to statistical software, and enhanced my presentation and scientific writing skills. I am better at beating strict deadlines because of my AIMS experience. I would confidently say that I wouldn’t be the person I am, and at the place, I am without AIMS, I will forever be grateful for that.
My favourite moments at AIMS were interacting with people across Africa (and beyond), learning about their different cultures, and exchanging ideas about many things, not just books. Everyone who has been to AIMS has a similar tale of time, no pun intended. The AIMS program is so paced, right from the very beginning, you feel like you going to snap, but you don’t, you get stronger, you want it to end and go home until you are home and realize how much you want to go back, it’s interesting.
Q: Tell us about the impact AIMS has had on you?
Rachael: I am more confident as a person because of AIMS. The AIMS program taught me how to express myself and gave me a platform through debates, class presentations, and writing. AIMS taught me to be a team player, as well as an independent thinker. AIMS opened so many doors of opportunities for me and continues doing so through the AIMS alumni network. The program equipped me with skills in communication, leadership, adaptability, and work ethic. The training taught me the discipline to work and be productive under minimal or no supervision. The experience at AIMS led me to start a blog where I share my experience and teach statistics concepts. I must add that the programming component of the entire program has been very fruitful to my current role.
My most memorable experience at AIMS is getting the opportunity to take part in the AIMS-ESMT Industry Immersion Program. This program developed me in basic managerial and organizational skills and immersed me in practical, skills-based employability qualities, making my transition to industry smooth. I am no longer lost; I now appreciate how my mathematical skills are relevant in the industry.
Q: What would you describe as your post-AIMS success story?
Rachael: I serve in my current role as a lecturer at the Taita Taveta University and also as a research officer at some companies. Among them are the Statistics for Sustainable Development (Stats4SD) & Dalberg.
Through the networking of AIMS, I collaborated with a few colleagues and other mathematical scientists to form a research group with an interest in Biomathematics and Climate Science. We almost see the close of our first project on ‘Modelling COVID-19 in Kenya’. I will describe this as my success story after AIMS and attribute its success to AIMS because; AIMS taught me to take charge and be the change I want to see in the world and trained us to be problem solvers, which ignited the need to form the research group. We envision coming up with breakthrough discoveries which benefit the whole society.
At a personal level, in the next few years, I want to have completed further studies at the Ph.D. level and solve real-world life problems sighted at solving the SDGs.
Q: Which of the SDGs is most relevant to you? How do you plan on addressing it in your work?
Rachael: I take a particular interest in SDG 2 & 3. SDG 2 aims to achieve Zero Hunger with its primary focus on agriculture. Through the MS4CR program where I interned as a research officer, I work under ICRISAT/Manobi Africa, where I was introduced to the field of agriculture working on a project on “Assessing the development value of cheap, but dense IoT rain gauges.” This experience saw me appreciate agriculture more and the smallholder contribution to food security. I would take joy in being part of a team that helps accomplish this goal by enhancing food security in my community, country, Africa, and beyond.
SDG 3 is on ‘Good Health and Well Being.’ Good health is at the centre of human happiness and well-being and contributes significantly to prosperity and wealth. Healthy populations tend to be more productive, which reflects on their economic progress. However, my interest in this goal was motivated by my master’s research at AIMS in the Biomathematics field on ‘Parameter estimation of selected epidemic models; HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and Ebola Virus Disease.’ I plan to use disease modelling to understand the transmission of infections better and evaluate the potential impact of control programmes to aid in achieving this goal.
Other articles that I have worked on and speak to these SDGs can be accessed with the links below:
Q: What is your message to current AIMS students and young people across the continent?
Rachael: Be flexible, kick yourself out of your comfort zone, and allow yourself to learn new things, you can, and you are already doing it. Trust people to tell them where you do not understand and seek clarity. Lastly, I will leave you with my all-time favourite quote, “it’s not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it’s because we do not dare that they are difficult.”