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May 6, 2011

The life of a Graduate Assistant

'Parents' magazine staff writer Edna Gicovi interviewed AnnRita Njiru, an Assistant Lecturer in the School of Management and Commerce for the magazine’s Young Achievers column. The interview appears in the August 2011 issue of the magazine.


When I was told about AnnRita Njiru, a young lecturer and academic, I expected her to be a quiet nerd who needs a lot of prompting to speak, and mostly keeps to herself. I was wrong .The petite AnnRita, although laid back, is also a bubby girl who speaks up. She does wear spectacles though.

 

She takes off the spectacles and straightens her dull grey skirt suit as we settle down for the interview. “I grew up as an only girl, sandwiched between two boys and that made me a tomboy,” she says, adding, “it was interesting and fun.”

 

Looking at her, this does not seem obvious. She appears quite prim and proper, hardly the tree-climbing, bike-riding tomboy type. As I make this observation, she tells me that she cycles with a group called 'wheels of Africa', mostly on weekend mornings.

 

‘Wheels of Africa’ consists of a group of cyclists who cycle to raise money for worthy causes, leisure and also professionally. So far she has been involved in cycling for cancer and environmental conservation awareness.


She was sad to give up cycling for a while because of her busy schedule, but she intends to take it up again soon now that she has settled in her job. She mentions that she is quite outdoorsy and enjoys activities like hiking.

 

She has climbed Mt Longonot and Ngong Hills, and plans to climb Mt Kenya with a group of friends later this year in preparation to climbing Mt Kilimanjaro early next year.

 

Background

AnnRita comes from a close-knit family of three children. She is in the middle, and is the only girl. Her brother, Kelvin Kinyua, who is two years older, is a doctor at Msambweni District Hospital, while Brian Muriithi, three years her junior is studying Mechanical Engineering at the University of Nairobi.

 

Her mother is a high school teacher, while her father is a lawyer. Her parents were very focused on education, and saw that their children got the best of it and excelled.

 

She however says that they never pressured her or her siblings into the careers they chose. They dealt with each child according to their individual strengths and potential. “To this day, they still want us to be our very best,” she says, evidently very fond of them.

 

AnnRita, longed to be a lawyer from an early age, “just like daddy”. Shortly after completing her high school education at Precious Blood Girls Secondary School at Riruta in 2003, she enrolled for a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) course at Strathmore University.

 

She took the course for a few months but did not sit the final examinations at the end of it. “I was a little afraid of Accounting at the time and I felt rather unprepared,” she says.

 

“I also must have been still exhausted from all the studying I did in high school as this was even before my KCSE results were out,” she explains.

 

She is thankful to her parents who were supportive and understanding during this time.

 

AnnRita was planning to follow her childhood dream of becoming a lawyer by enrolling to study Law. Her father, however, dissuaded her from this because he had seen many young lawyers struggling to establish themselves, and she agreed with him.

 

Her next best option after Law lay in a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Accounting and Marketing. She enrolled for the course at Strathmore University in Nairobi.

 

It was then that she discovered a passion she had for accounting, even after being afraid of the course initially. She took a double major because she also enjoyed marketing and could not decide which one to focus on.

 

“I remember performing quite well from my first semester in school. I really enjoyed accounts and marketing,”she says.

 

She appeared on the Dean’s list several times and even got a rebate on her school fees for her good performances. She graduated with First Class Honours in 2008.

Teaching beckons...

Soon after completing her undergraduate studies, AnnRita applied for a Graduate Assistant’s job advertised by Strathmore. The job came with an offer to pursue a 90 per cent sponsored master’s degree.

 

It entailed being attached to a senior lecturer. “It’s basically being trained to become a lecturer as you do your masters,” she explained.

 

She started her masters’ classes in May 2008. This was two weeks after she had completed her undergraduate studies.

 

As a lecturer in training, she did not teach any unit on her own. “Since most classes are three hours, I’d be in for one hour and the senior lecturer would teach for the other two hours. I was mainly doing tutorials, which are sessions that help one to learn class control and confidence, and also assist in marking,” she says.

 

AnnRita found teaching challenging at first. She says that with teaching there is nothing much to prepare you for the actual job as you have to stand before a class and teach in order to learn how to do it.

 

You have to learn on the job. “Big groups were hard for me at first. Class control and getting all the students involved, such that the ones who had trouble getting the concepts are not left behind and the ones who are fast learners don’t get bored were challenges I faced,” she says.

 

Working and studying concurrently was no mean task according to AnnRita. She had to put a lot of hours into her work and as a result did not have much of a social life.

 

She has also encountered a few unruly students but she has learnt to deal with that. With the institution’s strict rules, she doesn’t come across a lot of cases, though. “If a student is causing a distraction or misbehaving, you simply ask them to leave class,” she says.

 

At 26, she is one of the youngest lecturers at Strathmore. In fact, she is many times mistaken for a student.

 

And I can understand why. Her round face and small frame make her appear almost like a high school student, much younger than she really is. Nonetheless, she has found it has worked to her advantage.

 

Students find younger lecturers more approachable and easier to relate to, according to her. They are free to ask questions and raise concerns .They also get inspired when they see young people excelling in their fields.

 

“I am currently teaching a course called `Fundamentals of Accounting’ to first years,” she informs me.

 

She is grateful for the meaningful experience she acquired as a Graduate Assistant. “Teaching is an enjoyable job because you can see the direct impact you’re having on the lives of your students. You also get to interact with different people every time as there is a new group of students every semester, so it hardly gets monotonous,” she adds. It is something she enjoys and looks forward to.

 

A typical day for her involves preparing for her classes, teaching, and marking continuous assessment tests (CATS) and examinations. It is an involving but interesting job for her because she is always learning something new.

 

“I have to read constantly as there are always new principles and concepts coming up and I have to keep myself updated,” she says. The amount of research involved in teaching has also taught her a great deal.

 

“Teaching is one of the few jobs where you get to develop yourself,” she says.

 

She also recalls having a hard time getting information required to complete her thesis and she had to postpone her graduation for one year because of this. Demanding as it was, she struggled on and graduated in June this year with a Master of Commerce in Environmental Accounting.

 

The environment...

“I majored in environmental accounting, which I loved as it involves two of my passions – the environment and accounts,” says AnnRita. She explains that environmental accounting is a discipline that attempts to measure both social and environmental impacts of business decisions. She hopes to venture into this almost locally uncharted territory and advance it at PhD level.

 

AnnRita loves nature and tries as much as she can to conserve the environment.  “I’m not doing anything extremely special,” she says.

 

“I do that which is in my control and it’s interesting to see that people around me have picked up some of my habits,” she adds.

 

AnnRita cannot stand it when people litter .She usually takes upon herself to keep bottles and other forms of trash from her friends and dispose off them at home or at the nearest dustbin.

 

“People don`t litter around me,” she says with a chuckle. She opens her bag and takes an empty bottle with a straw inside it. “See, I usually have such litter in my bag,” she says smiling.

 

She is also conscious of little habits like leaving water running when brushing teeth and using just enough water when showering. “Everyone can make a difference, no matter how small. It’s the cumulative effect that matters and so everyone should take responsibility and not wait for someone else,” she says.

 

AnnRita would like to see separation of garbage introduced as it makes it much easier to recycle, which will leave streets cleaner and conserve energy .For instance, organic garbage that comes from food and other natural material can be separated from non -organic garbage like plastics and metals.

 

She was once part of a group of four that entered a business plan competition that saw them travel to India and emerge among the top six out of 22 international groups. Theirs was the only group from Africa.  See: http://www.strathmore.edu/oldsite/News.php?NewsID=273.

 

Their business plan was about converting organic substances to into fuel so as to clear the garbage around the city and reduce the cutting down of trees for energy and other uses. However, because the capital required for the venture is quite high, it has not started. They are currently working on launching the project early next year.

 

The future


AnnRita looks forward to furthering her studies. She is not sure what her focus will be on, although it will definitely be in environmental accounting. She would also love to test her hand in business, preferably event planning, which is one of her interests.

 

“I also have the usual young lady dreams,” she adds smiling. “I’d like to get married, have kids, and settle down. I’ve always wanted a family of my own.”

 

Parting shot

“The only person who can stop you from achieving your dreams is you. If you really want something, it is reachable if you put in considerable effort and surround yourself with the right kind of people,” says AnnRita.

 

She also says that a lot of people usually make the mistake of thinking that since they are young they have many years to start pursuing their dreams in the future which is not always the case. “The time to start pursuing your dreams is now,” she says. “It’s even more fulfilling when you see your dreams coming true when you are still young.”

 

by AnnRita Njiru

Contact Details

Madaraka Estate
Ole Sangale Road, PO Box 59857,
00200 City Square
Nairobi, Kenya
Tel: 0703-034000, 0703-034200


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