Today’s Pearls and Heels lady is Wandia Njoya. Wandia defines herself as an African, woman, teacher and Christian. She heads the Department of Language and Performing Arts at Daystar University, where she also teaches literature, French, and writing classes. She also considers herself an intellectual who provides an African perspective on global and local issues.
1. Describe your typical day?
Wake up, go to the office, do my paper work and meet or teach students, then go home and start my laptop again to do the work that requires more concentration like writing reports, marking papers or writing for my blog. When I’m not in the office I’m networking with the arts and business world to look for opportunities to benefit my students
2. What did you want to be when you grew up?
A lawyer. Now I thank God that I didn’t pass well enough to get into law school.
3. If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
I’d be bolder in offering a professional opinion among my peers. I used to be ashamed that I was educated and not the poor rural African woman whom NGOs and government are supposed to help. So I’d try not to speak out when men are in the room unless I absolutely had to. But those absolutely ended up being many because I could not keep quiet in the face of prejudice against women and against the arts and humanities. If I had another chance, I wouldn’t apologize for who I am.
4. What would you say are the top three skills needed to succeed at your job?
a) Humility (Kenyans put too much focus on papers and so academics tend to get arrogant about their degrees), b) a love for people (and a desire to serve them through knowledge and teaching) c) a global consciousness (you need to know what’s happening in the world and how you fit in that larger picture so that you don’t get distracted by ego trips and side shows).
5. As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
Nairobi is a great place to work because it is very networked and connected. I still confuse people about the value of my work because the expectation of academics is to just give notes and exams and let people be.
6. What motivates you?
My students. I judge the value of everything I do by what lessons my students can learn from it.
7. How do you define success?
By a legacy that lingers a century after you’re gone.
8. Who has been your greatest inspiration?
Many people inspire me, but Profs. Micere Mugo, Paul Tiyambe Zeleza and Lewis Gordon are prominent on my list.
9. What is your favourite aspect of your job?
Reading, developing ideas and interacting with students.
10. What would you say are the key elements to being successful?
Humility, opening your life to others (which means some loss of privacy ) and vulnerability (the openness that you could be wrong and the humility to admit it)
11. What advice would you give somebody just starting out in your line of work?
Forget about the degrees and focus on ideas that benefit society
12. What has been your most satisfying moment in terms of your career?
When a student says that their interaction with me changed how they thought about something or did something.
13. What makes you happy?
Students growing intellectually, spiritually and socially.
14. What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
I love sewing, knitting and doing anything creative with my hands.
15. Where do you see yourself in around 10 years?
With a professorship, and back in the classroom teaching and mentoring students full time. Right now my time is divided between that and administrative duties.