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Attaining self-actualization in academics; Associate Prof. David Wang’ombe

Prof. David Wangombe

For as long as I can recall, my childhood dream was always teaching and I always had an eye on accounting. Unfortunately, after A’ Levels I did not manage to study accounting but I did economics. Upon joining University of Nairobi, I studied accounting and economics and additionally did my Chartered Professional Accounting (CPA) on the side. In fact, we were only two students who had completed CPA section four after completing the first degree. While I was in the University, teaching was an attractive career, for some reason I did not like the word “teacher” because people tend to mess up the title “teacher.” One thing was certain though; I always wanted to attain the highest level of education. Therefore, I chose to cut my choices and focused on what I wanted to do, leaving behind what I was not inclined to.

In 1994, there was a one-year university strike but for me this was a blessing in disguise. I received an offer from the Kenya College of Accountancy to teach and since I was not college then, I took up the opportunity. I also undertook a training offered by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland on how to train in professional accounting and was able to continue with my CPA’s. I also did a lot of part-time teaching in several universities. Upon completing my Bachelors, I received a scholarship and studied my Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a specialization in Accounting at the University of Nairobi. During that time, an MBA was a 2-year programme and one needed to complete it in two years or else one would fail. Nowadays, the MBA programmes are more relaxed and one can pace themselves.

First forward to 2002, and I joined Strathmore University at the start of undergraduate programmes. I began as a full-time lecturer, for me this was a dream come true. I had always admired Strathmore University. When I was in University, some of my classmates used to study their CPAs in Strathmore and I was not among them. Well, I could not afford it.

McFie would come and pick up Strathmore students in a van and I used to be amazed by the “Mzungu” who arrived early and waited outside University of Nairobi halls of residence; I always found this fascinating.

Over the years, I rose up the ranks.  On the academic rank, I was first a lecturer, then a senior lecturer and now I am an associate professor. In the administrative rank, I began as an examinations officer then moved on to programme coordinator. I then became the school manager and afterwards the Dean of School of Management and Commerce, a position I held for 10 years.

I began the journey of professorship the day I decided I had to attain the highest level of education. This journey is not for the faint-hearted but with determination, it is possible. To be a professor, there are certain requirements one needs to fulfil. They differ from university to university but at Strathmore University, one needs to have completed a doctorate degree, demonstrated scholarly work and dissemination of it, demonstrated ability to attract research funds, demonstrate respect from other academics, undertake consultancies and serve society with the knowledge attained.

I might have summarized this journey in less than an hour but it is not an easy task. Many a time one questions oneself if all this is really worth it, but my advice to my colleagues is to soldier on. There are a lot of sacrifices to be made along the way. One needs to sacrifice income and comfort, be ready, and open to criticism from all areas. People will trash your work while others will love it. All this is part of the journey. Remember, while still pursuing professorship, life does not stop. Your family is still a priority, your students still need to learn and your different circles demand your time but one has to be smart and decide what to keep and what to drop.

Sometimes I look around and it is as if I lost friends. Other times I have to make sure my family knows that I still exist (chuckles Prof. Wang’ombe) so I do things to remind them. I have a family of girls. My lovely wife Cathy and two daughters Joan, 9 and Rita 5”

Trust me when I say no one is going to hand you a professorship on a silver platter. One needs to work extremely hard for it and put in the necessary hours. There are no short cuts. It is paramount to surround oneself with like-minded individuals. Personally, I am grateful to the leadership of Strathmore University especially the Vice Chancellor Prof. Odhiambo for his encouragement through-out this journey. He demands very high standards from his faculty and this really challenged me. Whenever I published an article, he would cheer me on. I remember once he told me that he would hate to retire before I attained my professorship and well I guess we can tick that box now.

My special gratitude goes to my wife, my unspoken heroine. She had to sacrifice our time in the evenings so that I could publish work and review peer articles of other colleagues in a bid to earn recognition in the academic world, and she continues to do it ever so gracefully. Thank you, Catherine Wanjiku.

My advice to budding professors is that this journey is one of passion. It is not an investment made expecting a higher return on investment because the return on investment is not monetary. It is the fulfilment of getting there and, more importantly, the difference one makes in society by the knowledge developed. It is a tough journey; there are many facets of life to balance. Family, work, career, personal interest and each competes for time; good time management skills come in very hardy.

It is possible. Just believe, work and once you earn it you will forget all the toil you went through.