Woman of Passion: I became a mathematician despite first failing KCPE

Purity Ngina, 31 is a Research and Assessment Manager at Zizi Afrique Foundation . PHOTO: POOL

What you need to know:

  • Dr. Purity Ngina first rose to fame when she became the youngest Ph.D. holder in Biomathematics
  • She re-sat her KCPE after failing the first time
  • Purity is passionate about girls and women empowerment and is keen on seeing more girls and women pursuing STEM careers

Dr. Purity Ngina first rose to fame when she became the youngest Ph.D. holder in Biomathematics that she attained at Strathmore University in 2018 at the age of 28.

She had three publications to her name and she mainly published papers on HIV/AIDS as she felt that it had affected many people in society. "Many people are unaware that mathematics can offer solutions to diseases. I saw a gap that needed a voice and that kept me going," she shares.

Her journey has not been an easy one as she has had her fair share of ups and downs.

"I grew up in Nyeri county in Kieni East in a small village called Mbiriri. My brother and I were raised by a single mother. I completed primary school in 2002 and unfortunately, I did not do well as I got 235 marks out of 500," Dr. Ngina recalls.

Her mother urged her to re-sit, her KCPE as she knew the value of education especially since she hadn't been able to acquire an education herself. In 2003 she re-did her exams and attained 369 marks. Luckily, she managed to secure a spot in TumuTumu Girls, based in Karatina in 2004.

Getting into high school

"It was my first time to be away from home. I struggled to fit in especially since my mum could barely afford the shopping. I decided to bury myself in books and I figured that education would take me places. I also joined the choir and got involved in activities that helped me adapt to the new environment. Deep down I knew I had to do my best," she narrates.

With a lot of perseverance and a lot of sleepless nights, she successfully finished her High School Education by scoring a B plus. In 2009, she joined Egerton University to pursue a degree in Bachelor of Education, Science, Maths, and Chemistry.

"My first year was good and I even appeared on the Dean's list. I graduated with first-class honors. I was lucky to get a scholarship for being the best student but first, I had to apply for a Master's program. Since money was still an issue, I asked my mum to sell some things for us to raise money for the fees. I also borrowed money to help me raise the fees and I went ahead and registered for a Master's program in Applied Mathematics at Egerton University," says a beaming Dr. Ngina.

The persistent scholar graduated from her Master's programme in 2015 and during that time, it was unheard of for someone to graduate within two years especially in Mathematics. "I remember walking down the aisle, the band playing just for me, the Vice-Chancellor reading my papers and publications, it was an iconic moment," she adds.

Master’s programme

As soon as she was done with her Master's, she got an opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. in Biomathematics at Strathmore University and to be a part-time assistant lecturer. Meanwhile, she got an opportunity with DAAD (German exchange program) to go to Germany for six months to do her research.

"I never thought in a million years that I would get such an opportunity," she says. Sadly, she lost her mother while pursuing her Ph.D.

It was tough for her as she was a "mummy's girl" but she kept pressing on and decided that she would dedicate her studies to the memory of her beloved mum.

Purity is passionate about girls and women empowerment and is keen on seeing more girls and women pursuing STEM careers. In her free time, she runs a high school mentorship programme aimed at demystifying mathematics and inspiring girls to embrace STEM courses.

"I visit many schools and advise students to focus on their studies. Everything revolves around education and people should appreciate it more. I know how it feels to sleep hungry and that's why I was always focused on my books," professes Dr. Ngina.

After attaining her Ph.D. in Biomathematics from Strathmore University, she was eager to join an organisation that appreciated people from the same background as hers.

Working to improve Kenya’s education

She joined Zizi Afrique in February 2020 as a Research Manager, a dream job as it gave her the space to continue researching on matters to do with Education. Zizi Afrique promotes equity in education and roots for learning for all children. The organisation brokers relationships between classroom interventions and the government leadership to accelerate change.

"It has been an interesting journey. I usually research areas related to education to see whether children are gaining the right competencies at the right levels. If you want to influence the education sector, you must generate evidence and that is where my research expertise comes in," offers Dr. Ngina.

For now, she is focused on raising her seven-month-old baby and enjoys movie dates with her husband of two years who is also in the academic field.

"Family keeps me grounded. If I am not into books, I would probably be in the army," Dr. Ngina says. She is looking forward to becoming a cadet someday as she loves their discipline and passion to serve. She also plans on taking many short courses on research because there are new ways of collecting data.

"In the future, I want to join an advisory board talking about life skills," she says.

Her parting shot? "Your story is all that you have, so keep adding good chapters. Young people should want to change the story and make their story interesting and better."


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