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New Honors College president wants student-to-student mentorships

By Gloria Katya and Ivan Tsebeni
Mecca Akello is the new president of Uganda Christian University’s (UCU) Honors College, which is a leadership training program that mentors and trains students with life skills, preparing them for survival in the competitive world.

Akello, a student of Bachelor of Arts with Education, beat two other contenders in the elections that were held virtually on September 23. Akello garnered 29 votes, beating her closest challenger, Samantha Atuhaire, who polled 25 votes.

“It was a tough race, but I’m glad I won,” Akello said, attributing her success to God. 

Born in the northern Uganda district of Kole to Benson Ongom and Grace Asio, Akello is the last of four siblings. She is no stranger to leadership. As early as secondary school, she was a students’ leader at Kole Secondary School.

In 2018, when Akello joined UCU, she was elected a class representative. She says that position paved the way for her to later join the university’s students’ guild government in 2020.

She believes that her most recent position as Minister of Education in the guild government will help her perform even better at her new role at the apex of leadership at the Honors College, which focuses on Christian mentorship, leadership and academic research. 

In her early days as president for UCU’s group of honors students, Akello wants to put in place a student-to-student program to help guide and mentor new students. 

“This will reduce the number of students who drop out of the college since the mentors will have been through the same struggles,” said Akello, who joined the Honors College in 2019 in her second year at UCU.  She also pledges to address the issue of tuition which she said is the biggest reason for student dropout.

“When I joined the college, I did not really know much, I was scared, I joined it with the intention of keeping the good academic grades,” she says, adding that the college has offered her more than she expected.

To join the Honors College, applicants must have at least a 4.0 Cumulative Grade-Point Average (CGPA) out of 5.0. The college offers talented students the opportunity to tap on their mettle through an extra certificate-program, alongside the regular bachelor’s degree course.

The college, which is the brainchild of Prof. Stephen Noll, UCU’s first Vice Chancellor, offers a multidisciplinary approach to scientific and social issues, which helps to enrich students’ projects and research.

Pamela Tumwebaze, the head of the Honors College, says that Akello is one of the students who recently had a wonderful research project. 

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Business-turned-security alum narrates how UCU prepared him for endurance

When Najib Kabaala graduated from Uganda Christian University (UCU), he hoped to immediately delve into ‘stuff’ he had studied. Having enrolled in 2016, he had finally acquired a Bachelor’s of international Business Management and hoped to instantly morph into an international businessman.

The last thing he had imagined as a graduate of International business was to end up clad in thick-soled footwear, a private security agency uniform and having to deal with bullets instead of balance sheets. First, security officers are known to earn terribly low wages, especially in developing economies. Secondly, the nature of security-related jobs simply lack the pomp that a university graduate (cum laude) would naturally want for the ‘good’ of their ego.

Therefore, typically, Najib had dreamed of dealing in exports and imports nationally, regionally and later continentally. He could see his near-future-self- sitting at tables with Ugandan expatriates, talking big business, “helping them understand the local environment in which they want to invest,” he says

Matter of fact, while at UCU Najib had garnered a good reputation as an entrepreneur, while at UCU. He was known to turn virtually all his coursework projects into sustained businesses, which outlived the fixed timeframes that marked the end for his classmates who were only interested in project marks. Instead, Najib would continue to earn a profit.

Together with a friend named Barasha (a former UCU Guild President), he sold salads at a profit to students at the University refectory, during meal hours. They would reach fruit farmers and those growing greens like cabbage, around and far from Mukono, place orders and have the merchandise delivered to UCU. These they would process-themselves-into salads. Then sell to students.

UCU business alum Najib Kabaala.

At the same time, Najib traded in confectionery, including: chocolate, chewing gum, digestives, et cetera. And as Corporate Social Responsibility, he and Barasha would donate a portion of their revenue, at the end of the semester, to the UCU Guild Fund, to support financially underprivileged students.

Upon graduating in 2019, the duo started a company called KK International Business and Trade Advisory that offered tax-filing, business consultancy, among other services. In short, Najib did just enough to make his entrepreneurial prospects palatable, not only to him, but also to many of his clients.

However, in a drastic turn of events early this year, Najib enrolled in a private security firm called Saracen Uganda Limited. One would say, the unthinkable had happened. However, this is how Najib interpreted the move: “I did not choose security. I believe Security chose me.” He further confessed that “I never thought that I would take that direction. I expected to be doing international business.” So, “what happened? One may ask.  

Throughout 2020 he had volunteered at the UCU-Africa Policy Center, aiding with program coordination among other tasks, albeit the service was not financially rewarding enough for a graduate who has daily-living bills actively weighing on his shoulders. His side gigs- including the ‘infant’ company- were neither bringing an income stable enough merit treatment as a full-time.

As though in conspiracy, circumstances made Najib only too happy to accept the recommendation of a UCU lecturer, who also fixed for him the job at a security agency. All he had to do was submit his credentials and turn up for an interview. However, Najib narrates his first appointment for the job with horror.

On his first day at the perceived work station, at the shore of Lake Victoria, at Garuga, a camping site in Entebbe district, Central Uganda, Najib turned up turned up in typical young corporate fashion; sharply dressed, academic credentials in one hand and heavy expectation in the other- eager to sign a contract, shake hands, and then be showed to his office space. “The supervisor took my documents, put them aside and told me to join my colleagues,” he says.

Meanwhile, the said “colleagues” were a few meters away, at the lake shore. Shirtless and submerged. Confused, alarmed, yet helpless, Najib complied. This was to be, for him, what “Hell week” is to US Marines. He took off his shirt, stayed in shorts and got into the water. Later, they sang chants, rolled on their backs, frog-jumped, ran and did even deadly drills. They camped, doing that, for well-over three months.

“The training was so intense that at some point I wanted to drop everything and go back home,” says Najib.

When he successfully completed the paramilitary training and a management course, too, Najib assumed office of Assistant Area Manager, courtesy of his graduate status. This places him above an ordinary cadet; implying, he does not have to guard all night at a client’s premises, as it is for the former.

He is posted to Hoima district, Western Uganda, where he executes a supervisory role over hundreds of private security guards. In his day-to-day operations, Najib meets corporate company executives such as bank managers, among others who wish to hire their security services. Ironically, the International Business management graduate, who hoped to deal in cross border trade of civilian commodities, handles transfer of weaponry across borders, on behalf of his company, which has international branches.

Now Najib looks at his current job not as an end in itself, but a means. He is still actively involved in business and hopes to eventually enroll for a Master’s degree at UCU when he has the resources.

He strongly believes UCU’s “holistic approach to academics and individual’s development,” prepared him for such a time when he would get to exercise his expertise in an unconventional environment for a graduate.

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Hamu Mukasa Library marks 10 years

By David Bukenya- Deputy University Librarian

This is a special week for the UCU Libraries. Precisely ten years ago, we officially dedicated a newly constructed Hamu Mukasa Library. The multi-million ($3.3 million) projected whose construction took approximately 15 years, sprung an imposing sense of grandeur in the heart of the UCU Main Campus in Mukono.

The significant physical and highly functional structure with large windows allowing natural light, laced with bamboo design ceilings in the reading spaces, welcoming patrons via a light-filled atrium and other inviting, user-focused spaces, ten years later, is still the heartbeat of the campus, meeting the needs of the UCU community

Following the construction, the new Hamu Mukasa Library quickly assumed its place at the heart of the campus – both physically and symbolically – now boasting thousands of users since its new doors opened on 28th October, 2021.

Est.2011

Importantly, the construction afforded a model for what a modern library should look like; featuring new technology and large study spaces. Not just physically, but also in its mission and reach; indeed fulfilling the fundraising theme, “a Great University Deserves a Great Library”.

It has been an integral part of the UCU Main Campus, providing innovative spaces for research and learning, large collections, and a range of services to our community.

The University Library plays a vital role in enabling the university to live its values and meet the challenges core to it: Research, teaching and community engagement.

We deeply appreciate all those whose gifts- both big and small-made the construction of Hamu Mukasa possible and helped position us to become a national model for academic research libraries.

Celebrate with us as we reflect on the history and progress of the Library, as well as its continued growth and innovation at Uganda Christian University.

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Ugandan study experience enriches American nurse

In September 2021, the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, welcomes a new staff member with Ugandan experience. Lauren Elaine Nagy, hired to be a nurse in the Pediatric Inpatient Rehab Unit, was part of the Uganda Studies Program (USP) at Uganda Christian University in 2018. 

Nagy’s employment follows her May 2021 graduation with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from the Messiah College in Pennsylvania and certification as a Registered Nurse.  She most recently was a health care provider at a Christian summer camp, Woodcrest Retreat.

Lauren and her family shortly after her graduation. Courtesy photo
Lauren and her family shortly after her graduation. Courtesy photo

Two years before the Covid-19 pandemic, Nagy traveled more than 7,000 miles away from her home as part of the American students who went to UCU for a four-month study abroad program. The trip was under the USP, a two-decades-old program that earlier this year shifted from the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities to under the administrative umbrella of the non-profit, UCU Partners, headquartered in Pennsylvania.

While at UCU, Lauren and other USP colleagues were part of the Global Health Emphasis (GHE). GHE provides an opportunity for students pursuing biomedical and public health-related disciplines to complete global health coursework and international field internship in Uganda. 

Lauren Elaine Nagy. Courtesy photo
Lauren Elaine Nagy. Courtesy photo

The USP affords international students an education within an African context. In addition to studies on the UCU Mukono campus, students get a chance to make trips to different parts of Uganda, visit the Equator and sometimes have a 10-day excursion to Rwanda. Some of the students live in the student dormitories on campus, while others are attached to host families.

For Nagy, nothing about UCU stands out more than the institution’s “commitment to integrating faith into all aspects of education.” She says it “created an atmosphere that pushed me to grow in my faith in more ways than I could have expected.” 

While on homestay, Nagy lived with a Ugandan family about five minutes away from the university campus. Her camaraderie quickly acclimatized her to the Ugandan culture of the family of Robert Kibirango and Esther Nakato. In fact, she takes pride in the name Nakiryowa (Luganda word for a type of tree) that the family bestowed on her. 

She has fond memories of the days she was involved in domestic work that included a unique way of peeling bananas. Clearly, the trip to Uganda gave her another family in addition to her biological one in Pennsylvania. Nagy is the daughter of Daniel Alan Nagy and Karen Lynn Nagy. 

“We spent time wandering through fields, exploring plants and anthills, feeding the new calf, picking fresh beans from the garden, and cooking dinner together. It was a beautifully simple time with my family,” she recalls, saying she has continued to keep in touch with the family of Kibirango.

Nagy highly recommends that American university students consider the UCU experience.  

“As many people as possible should experience the transformational growth that I did,” Nagy, who attended Chippewa High School in Doylestown, said.

She lauds UCU for the fusion of faith and books in the grooming of nurses because it enables them to dispense care, compassion and comfort. The culture of faith at UCU seemed to rhyme with Nagy’s sole goal in life – living in the center of God’s will for my life and glorifying Him to the fullest.

“It makes me happy to know that such an excellent school as UCU is producing hard-working, highly capable, Christian health care providers to send out into the communities and serve people as the hands and feet of Christ.”  

Lauren Nagy

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Prof. Kisaalita brings engineering solutions to UCU

Bespectacled. Loose-fitting, sky blue shirt. Sage-green cotton trousers. Black sneakers coated with dust likely gathered from strolling down the dirt roads of Mukono. His casual countenance belies his unsullied academic pedigree. He is an ordinary, grey-haired folk until you do one of three things: Type the name William S. Kisaalita into Google Chrome, ask him to tell you a bit about engineering and, thirdly, show him a major socio-economic problem in your community. Then shall you know the 67-year-old scholar for ‘who he truly is’.

Kisaalita is a Distinguished Professor of Engineering and a former Graduate Coordinator, at the University of Georgia, USA. Additionally, he is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Uganda National Academy of Science, and a Fulbright Scholar.

Early this year, 2021, he got an adjunct appointment at UCU and consequently touched base in Mukono in March. He received the offer with two hands for many reasons, though chiefly because of his keen interest and world-class expertize in “internationalizing undergraduate students engineering learning experiences”, as the Journal of Community engagement and scholarship writes of him.

Kisaalita came to teach mainly two course units: Foundations of Engineering Research and Development Engineering and Sustainability. He awaits approval of the course units by internal authorities who handle University curricular, before he can embark on lecturing. He has published literature in the same fields and beyond. His major books are two: Development Engineering and 3D Cell-based Biosensors in Drug Discovery Programs. Both are available on amazon.com. But this is only a pipsqueak of his scholarly portfolio. Kisaalita has published research and done more projects than space allows me to detail.

I met him somewhere on the green of Uganda Christian University (UCU). Typical of a Ugandan that has lived long enough in the West to master the on-time culture, he was just in time for our appointment. “It is exciting to be back home, you know, after so many years of being away” he remarks, with an American English accent. He has lived in the Diaspora since 1779. He makes his home in Georgia State, USA. Though they are empty nesters, Kisaalita and his wife Rose Mayanja, have four children.

Kisaalita’s name is tied to several research projects and innovations that continue to make inter-continental impact. His lean slightly stooping stature is proof for decades spent searching for and solving hard problems using simple engineering solutions, mostly in developing African economies.

He is the mind behind the Evakulaa a milk preserver powered by biogas derived from cow dung. Courtesy of a grant from the National Science Foundation, Kisaalita came to Uganda, in 2002, with a team of Undergraduate engineering students from UGA with whom he built the milk cooler. He would later secure another grant from World Bank to commercialize the cooling system, which had taken him many years and additional funding from USAID to develop. The invention has since revolutionized the milk market in Uganda, enabling small holder farmers who cannot afford refrigerators to keep milk fresh overnight.

In 2005, together with a colleague from UGA Kisaalita travelled to Morocco to develop a system that could help Moroccan women crack nuts much faster and efficiently. Nut-cracking was a laborious task that the women undertook to earn a living. Oil-exporting companies would hire them to crack shells of argan nuts in order to harvest the seeds, from which, then, oil would be extracted. The women had to crack the seeds between two stones, a process that sometimes mangled their fingers.

It usually lasted nearly 24 hours to produce a litre of oil. Incommensurate to the labour. No sooner had he tried to crack one himself than Kisaalita assigned his students to forge a nutcracker. The result of the heuristic Professor and his student’s development was a crank shaft hand tool that cracks nuts thrice faster…

Unlike scientists whose science closes out God and Godliness, Kisaalita’s empathy for the poor that is almost palpable when he speaks about their problems, is evidently inspired by his Christian convictions, which he argues must be an undergirding force if one is to think beyond their stomach, but of what they can do for their community.

“I feel like my job is to do things that lifts  people further up, from where they are, on the economic pyramid and there is no way of getting to know what they need other than stepping in their shoes or listening to them complain.”

Prof. Kisaalita

A penchant to solve social problems in his community has always inspired Professor William Kisaalita, a social entrepreneur, researcher, teacher, writer and parent. He believes that to understand challenges of the people one seeks or claims to serve, the latter must walk in their shoes; lest they come up with irrelevant inventions. Hence, he does not know, let alone like, to sit up in air conditioned study rooms or libraries, perusing tomes to read up on problems people are facing, then research. His methods are ethnographic.

Over the six months he has lived in Uganda, since March, Professor Kisaalita decided to embark on a project whose intended fruit, he says, is high-efficiency briquette-making machine(s) and green charcoal making. These he believes, will ease burden of unnecessary manual labour on local briquette makers in Uganda, some of whom he has interacted with during his six months stay in the country, ever since arrival.

A casual chat with a young woman whom he met selling briquettes somewhere around Mukono inspired the idea. On hearing-firsthand- about the rudimentary production processes, the Professor who began to think- Solution. He has been thinking, designing concepts and writing grant proposals. Now he has a briquette-development and green charcoal project underway in which he hopes to incorporate Engineering students when they are back on campus for in-person learning.

Moreover, he is working towards developing a center in UCU called the “Sustainable Development Center”, with goal of “strengthening graduate education”.  “I would like to produce a student who thinks at a high level to tackle problems in their community,” says Kisaalita. This would be a UCU- version of his annual program for freshmen, called the First Year Odyssey Seminar.

The Professor’s affiliation with UCU-no doubt- brings premium value to the University’s Faculty of Engineering, Design and Technology, not only because of his heavy scholarly profile but also because he eagerly seeks to link UCU to his world-wide web of networks. “I will try and use my networks. I hope to invite some of my colleagues from my University, here, to teach and interact with the students for periods as short as three weeks,” he says. “And soon some of them will even like the experience enough to travel on their own, he adds with a grin.

Background

Professor Kisaalita attended from Bishop Senior School in Mukono, 1968-1971. He later joined Kings College Buddo in 1972 from where he acquired his High School Certificate. In 1974, he joined Makerere University and graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1978. Four years later, he acquired a Master’s in Bio-resource engineering from the University of Vancouver, BC, Canada.

In 1981 he came back to Uganda to start a teaching career at Makerere University, but barely spent a year there because “life was incredibly hard. It was impossible to live decently”. He was earning a meagre wage of 600 shillings despite the economic inflation at the time. “The economy was in tatters, money had lost value due to inflation, but our salaries were not adjusted. On many occasions his parents delivered food to his apartment.

After seven months in Uganda, he decided that life at Makerere, at the time, was unsustainable. He hang his boots in August 1981 and left for Canada a few months later, in 1982. He enrolled for a Doctorate in Chemical engineering, in 1987, at the University where he had acquired a Master’s.

In 1991 he joined the University of Georgia, where he is still serving as Professor. This was shortly after pursuing a Post-Doctorate at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign.

Professor Kisaalita has garnered strings of awards over and secured Postdoctoral Fellowships at prestigious institutions around the world, during his scholarly career that has spanned over 40 years.

When he was nine, ‘little’ Kisaalita paid his debut visit at a workshop. In company of his father, who was a government mechanic at the Ministry of Works. At the workshop he saw giant machine slamming and neatly flattening other huge pieces of metal. His jaws dropped. As thought stricken by divine conviction, he said to himself, “I want to be able to do something like this.” Over fifty years later, he has become a polished innovator who niches in simple engineering solutions for problems of the proletariat.

Wandamix, a housefly larva-based protein concentrate for poultry feed formulation, is another of his innovations. This he developed to soothe the predicament of poultry farmers in Burkina Faso.

Hopefully his next popular project will come from UCU.

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