July 31, 2023



UCU alum continues academic marks at Japan university

By Pauline Luba
“A name is so important. A surname connects you to your past, to your family.” This quote is attributed to Canadian author Kelley Armstrong. 

The life of UCU Alumna Joyce Nakayenga

The life of Joyce Nakayenga, a new recipient of a PhD in engineering, is aligned with the writer’s assertion. Named after her paternal grandmother, Nakayenga grew up knowing that she had to uphold that matriarch’s legacy of hard work and overcoming challenges. Nakayenga’s grandmother struggled to educate her children despite having so little. 

When Nakayenga was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy in Engineering – Civil and Environmental Engineering from Hiroshima University in Japan on March 23, 2023, and as other members of her family as well as friends looked on, her grandmother’s spirit was ever present. With the degree, the 31-year-old also won three prestigious university awards.  Her research earned her the Best Presentation Researcher, Academic Encouragement Award and the 2022 Hiroshima Excellent Student Award.

For many who know Nakayenga’s academic ability, the latest attainment likely isn’t surprising. In 2015, she was not only a recipient of a First-Class degree in Bachelor of Science in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Uganda Christian University (UCU), but also had the best marks in her class. For that feat, she earned an academic excellence award at UCU. Consequently, UCU’s Department of Engineering and Environment hired Nakayenga as a tutorial assistant for one year.

“I have always wanted to be an engineer,” Nakayenga told Uganda Partners. “I wanted a profession that showed where I could visibly see the fruits of my work thereafter.”

UCU’s location within her home district – Mukono – and its deep roots in Christianity were a good fit for Nakayenga’s higher education choice.

Nakayenga notes that the UCU community, including its lecturers, were instrumental in ensuring concentration in books, overall performance and continued learning. For instance, a former lecturer at UCU brought her attention to the existence of the Mext scholarship to study at Hiroshima. Nakayenga enrolled for a master’s at the university in 2017 and the scholarship was extended to doctorate studies because she had passed the first post-graduate hurdle with flying colors. 

Nakayenga describes herself as someone “keen on promoting sustainable societal development, especially for developing countries, through innovative engineering solutions.” Her PhD research, under the topic “The re-use of stone quarry waste (i.e granite and limestone powder) to improve the properties of weak clay soils,” gives her the competence to be able to develop “sturdy infrastructure that will stand the test of time and natural disasters.” The research focused on how to make naturally weak clay soil strong, by using stone powder. 

Nakayenga is the fifth born of six children of Dr. Wilson Mubiru and Specioza Nabatanzi Mubiru. Nakayenga’s family had to use resources sparingly, having at one time been an extended family of up to 18 members living under one roof.  Her parents, now retired, were public servants. Wilson was the officer in charge of health in central Uganda’s Mubende district while Specioza served as an education officer in the same district.

Nakayenga attended Mubende Parents School for her primary education and Nabisunsa Girls School for her secondary education before joining UCU. Nakayenga balanced academics and student leadership roles at every school she attended. At Mubende Parents School, she was the assistant head prefect. At UCU she represented her faculty in the UCU students’ parliament. At Hiroshima University, from 2017 to 2018, Nakayenga was the university’s Study Abroad Ambassador, where she sensitized students on the benefits of studying in the Hiroshima Prefecture (municipality). 

For now, she will remain in Hiroshima, where the university has employed her as a postdoctoral researcher in the geotechnical laboratory of Hiroshima University.

When Linda Nanfuka from UCU got an offer to work in Uzbekistan, she had to Google it. “I couldn’t pronounce it, didn’t know where it was,” she said of the Central Asian nation located 5,499 kilometers (3,411 miles) from Uganda. For nine months in 2021, Nanfuka lived and worked as an engineer for what is now Uzbekistan’s first large-scale solar power plant.

Engineering alum breaks gender, age barriers

By Patty Huston-Holm
When Linda Nanfuka got an offer to work in Uzbekistan, she had to Google it. 

“I couldn’t pronounce it, didn’t know where it was,” she said of the Central Asian nation located 5,499 kilometers (3,411 miles) from Uganda. For nine months in 2021, Nanfuka lived and worked as an engineer for what is now Uzbekistan’s first large-scale solar power plant. Most of what she did was civil works (construction supervision, reporting) for METKA EGN, a  company that focuses on green-energy networks. 

UCU alum recruited to work in Uzbekistan

A Uganda Christian University (UCU) alum, Nanfuka got recruited to live and work in Uzbekistan based on her leadership in helping to launch a solar station on land leased from the Busoga Kingdom in Uganda’s Mayuge District.  The Mayuge-area plant, also called Bufulubi because of its location in a village by that name, increases the power supply for the eastern region. It generates 10 MegaWatts (MW) compared to Uzbekistan’s 131 MW capacity. 

Nanfuka knows that each MW is one million watts, that individual homes require a lot less than that and factories need more. As a 2018 UCU graduate in Civil and Environmental Engineering, she learned much of the technical aspects of what she applies in her work. 

She also knows that she is employed in a career path traditionally dominated by men and people older than her almost-28 years.  She has encountered skepticism and bullying as well as respect.

Linda Nanfuka at Uganda’s Mayuge solar plant
Linda Nanfuka at Uganda’s Mayuge solar plant

“In the African culture, we need to respect elders, and I do,” she said. “If someone 20 years older than you is wrong, you don’t disrespect but correct.” 

Nanfuka appreciates professionals at UCU

At the same time, Nanfuka credits older peers and professionals at UCU for mentoring, including during one “rough period” of her academic studies. She said Rodgers Tayebwa, head of department, engineering and environment, was especially helpful, “introducing me to students in the year ahead” and enabling her to have “balance and get back on track.”

For Nanfuka, the journey before and since graduating from UCU has required changing course and dispelling age and gender perceptions. The oldest of four children with a single mom living in Mukono, Nanfuka was expected to go into accounting to support herself and help her siblings.  She was told that engineering was too difficult and meant for men.

“One person close to me kept saying ‘no’ to engineering,” she said. “Today, I thank  God for those who doubted me, who dared me not to succeed, because I’m really happy with what I chose.”

Solar Energy chose her

As for solar energy, it chose her. While leading a Just in Time subcontracting team of 30-40 men who put a fence around what would be rows of solar panels in the Mayuge District, Nanfuka began spending her spare time in 2018 to mid-2019 learning about this growing, clean energy option.  From mid-2019, she transitioned into operational maintenance that she was part of until 2021. 

“I monitored the civil works – concrete pole installation and chain-link fencing,” Nanfuka said of the work in Mayuge.  “I went to the main contractor, expressed an interest in the larger project and was permitted on the site to learn from other contractors after my other work for the day was done.”

In 2020, the Uganda Bureau of Statistics estimated that 38 percent of the population used solar energy in some form from some 300 solar companies. The Soroti solar power plant is Uganda’s first grid-connected solar plant and the largest in East Africa. According to the Uganda Electricity Regulatory Authority, the Mayuge plant has the capacity to produce enough power for 30,000 households. 

When the fence around the Mayuge plant was in place, Nanfuka was made a junior civil engineer for METKA EGN. 

“God blesses us with sun,” she said.  “We should use it and protect the environment. I’m happy that our  country is having more of these projects that not only respect the earth but expand employment.”

In addition to applying her engineering technical and management skills, Nanfuka found enrichment in being embedded into the Uzbekistan culture from May to December in 2021. The project called 131 MW Tutly Solar PV Plant had non-English-speaking workers that presented an added challenge in communications to complete tasks. She learned safety requirements, the latter of which is stricter than in Uganda.  She learned that people from different races, religions and ethnicities can work together. Uzbekistan, which is near the better-known Afghanistan and Iran countries, is largely Muslim with few black-skinned people. 

“Many had never seen a black woman before,” she said. “The kids especially wanted to touch my hair.”

Speaking from Mukono in late July, Nanfuka shared that her next two aspirations are growing her own business while working on a master’s degree in construction management. 

“I’ve realized that what people really need here is help with planning and scheduling – project management,” she said. “I am grateful for people who took a chance on me, and had faith in me.  I did my best not to disappoint.” 

Nanfuka’s new business Web site is https://www.lindasvirtualhub.com.