My financial aid story
Over the years, Strathmore has been keen to ensure that students who need financial assistance are able to access Strathmore’s quality education. Since its inception in 2001, the Financial Aid Office has, through the concerted efforts of the Financial Aid team, corporate scholarship partners, the government through HELB, parents, alumni, staff through the staff giving fund, and students through their Elimisha Stratizen initiatives, spent KES 2 Billion to support over 10,000 students from across 46/47 counties of Kenya and 16/54 countries in Africa.
Today, Natalie Kiilu is one of the students in the University who have enjoyed at least one form of financial aid. But, had it not been for a friend who nudged her to apply for financial aid, Natalie Kiilu would have silently lived with her longing to be at Strathmore and her story would have had a different ending: She may not have experienced a semester abroad in Poland or been to Prague for a conference. She may not have discovered her passion for Intellectual Property Law. She may also not have lived through the pain of taking part in a moot and losing. Now, thanks to a partial scholarship granted to her, she was among the ten Strathmore Law #ClassOf2022 students who graduated with a first class honours. She relives her Strathmore experience below.
How did you get to know and receive a scholarship?
When I completed my high school education, one of my friends, Tamika Kimaru, who was already studying at SU invited me to attend a talk on campus, run by the Macheo team. This was my first ever interaction with Strathmore and I believe it was when I fell in love with SU. Nonetheless, the prospects of studying at SU were low for me because I was well aware the tuition fee was a little beyond what my family could afford.
However, one afternoon after the session, Tamika urged me to apply by letting me know that there could be scholarships open for students who had performed well in their KCSE. It did not take much more to convince me and I set out to apply for Strathmore Law School, passed my interview, and received my acceptance letter. After that, I immediately set out to apply for any available scholarship through the Financial Aid Office. Unfortunately, the beginning of the semester came and I was yet to receive any feedback from the office so for a minute there it looked like I had missed my shot at studying at SU. To my endless surprise, about three weeks after the start of the semester, I received a call from the Office requesting me to attend an interview accompanied by my parents. It is now four years and a First Class degree later, thanks to the partial scholarship I received from the office.
What has the scholarship enabled you to do that, otherwise, you wouldn’t have been able to?
Studying at SLS has been the greatest experience in my life so far and while I certainly would have still gone to law school, I could not have possibly been able to afford the tuition fees in SU. It is because of this scholarship that I have been able to meet some of the brightest and kindest people who have been my classmates for the past four years. I have made lifelong friendships with people from diverse backgrounds who have made the somewhat daunting journey enjoyable and memorable. I have also been exposed to world-class learning and developed a great work ethic. Being a Stratizen has also allowed me to receive excellent mentorship from my school mentor, Dr. Rosa Catacutan, as well as esteemed lecturers in SLS. I have also had the pleasure of representing SLS in the All Kenya Moot Court Competition which, although my team did not win, helped us learn plenty about being lawyers, researchers, team players, and learning from failure. Being an intern at the Centre of Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law (CIPIT) similarly allowed me to work with brilliant researchers and helped me contribute to important projects in the IT and IP Law arena.
What impact has your stay at SU had?
The certainty that half of my tuition fees had been settled every semester gave me the confidence and drive to work hard without worrying about financial matters. It is because of that sense of security that I managed to receive the Dean’s Award every academic year and eventually obtained an ERASMUS+ scholarship from the EU, together with a fellow classmate. Through the scholarship, I was able to spend an entire semester in Poland, comfortably studying at the amazing University of Gdansk. Just to emphasize the kindness and dedication of SU staff to our success, our founding Dean at the law school, Prof. Luis Franceschi, introduced us to a lovely Polish family who welcomed us into their lives and took care of us during our entire stay. Spiritually, I was also well taken care of because of the nourishment I received from talks with Fr. Charles Mundia whenever the semester, and growing up, seemed a little more difficult!
Growing up, what has mattered the most to you?
Although I was born in Machakos county, I have been raised in Nairobi all my life: I attended both my primary and secondary schools in Nairobi, and I completed O levels top of my class with an A-. I am the first born in my family and I have one sister who is currently in KU studying nursing. One of the biggest blessings in my life will have to be my family, nuclear and extended. I truly have a very loving and supportive family to which I owe all that I am and yet to be. In my free time, I enjoy reading, especially political theories such as feminist theories, pan Africanism, socialism and the like. I think we all have a serious responsibility to learn as much as we can about the world so that we can begin unlearning our biases and prejudices to create a better world for coming generations. I also enjoy fictional stories…. In short, I love reading. I like saying that after seeing quite a bit of Europe and after all the reading I have been doing, I have begun my enlightenment.
How can those who have received financial aid give back to SU?
While in school, I think the best thing to do is to work very hard, do your best and always remain curious and open to learning and growing your intellectual abilities but also your interpersonal skills. Take advantage of the networks in SU too and build relationships with the faculty, who can be instrumental in setting you up for success. The way I see it, performing well and becoming a well-rounded student puts you in a position to begin a stable and successful career through which you can then contribute to funds such as Elimisha Stratizen or even offer one on one mentorship to other SU students. Most of all, as the VC, Dr. Vincent Ogutu reminded us on our graduation ceremony, we ought to be great ambassadors of SU in our workplaces and communities. We must become the very best versions of ourselves and show this in the ways in which we interact with others and do our work.
How has your journey towards chasing after your dreams been?
In trying to figure out who you want to become, it is very important to find someone who you highly respect; a person who embodies all the good traits that you want to have. I received this piece of advice earlier this year from Richard Parr while I attended the Effective Altruism Conference in Prague. Richard Parr, who was the Special Advisor to then British Prime Minister David Cameron, gave us examples of what emulating your heroes could look like and this included copying some of the things your heroes did. The trick, he said, is to figure out what things get them in the mindset which makes them so admirable in your eyes and so you could begin by reading the books they read, saving up to eat in restaurants where they eat, learning their mannerisms and daily routines etc. Although I thought this was excellent advice, I have only very recently realized that I had been applying that advice before even hearing it!
What has that meant for you in practice?
Through SU, I have met someone who I consider one of the most brilliant people and who has in recent years become one of my heroes. When I first met Cecil Abungu at SLS, he was a Graduate Assistant and I was a latecomer having joined the Barrister’s class four weeks into the semester. I was very nervous about being the new student and doubly so about being an SLS student and so in seeking to catch up with my peers, I inquired about the assigned class readings for my first week there. It so happened that for my first Constitutional Law 1 class, we had to read a nearly 100-page court decision in preparation. Having never set foot in a law school class and therefore having no understanding of FILAC or other formulas I could use to properly dissect case law, I sat down and read and summarized the entire case. Through this class, I got to meet Mr. Abungu as the graduate assistant in charge and answered nearly every question he had asked.
In hindsight, this is one of the best things I have ever done in my law school journey: daring to put up my hand, because since then, my hand never went down in class for the entirety of my stay in SLS. It is a small act but it has had great consequences. For one, I always made sure to do my pre-class readings keeping me well-read and prepared to ask and answer questions in class. It also helped shed off the anxiety of being the newest student and allowed me to settle in much quicker. A few weeks later, Cecil also happened to have a short conversation with me and he encouraged me to continue reading and learning. Seeing his accomplishments gave me the courage to also want more and dream bigger, which in turn drove me to work harder knowing that things I previously thought were too far out of reach were now in the realm of possibility for me too.
In many significant ways, meeting Cecil has been the biggest blessing of my SU journey and I tell this story to my friends and everyone still in university or joining university because I have seen the power of good influence. Perhaps then, the greatest power SU yields is not really the excellent education it instills in us in and of itself but the way it shapes its students who become great ambassadors and inspirations to many of us studying in SU. I don’t think I can ever quantify the gratitude I have to SU, the financial aid office and Strathmore Law School.
This article was written by Natalie Kiilu and Wambui Gachari.
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