Meet Waithera, an all-rounder with roles in Partnership Development and Polymer Chemistry. Who says women can’t do it all?
Hi Waithera, it is wonderful to finally have this session with you. Thanks for accepting to let us into your world
Hello Winnie, it’s great to e-meet you! Anita had mentioned that you’d be reaching out and I’m excited to know share my story with Words That Count.
Briefly introduce yourself to our audience
My name is Florence Waithira Wambugu, but I prefer being called Waithera Wambugu because I really love my African Name. Currently, I am the Partnerships Manager at Baobab Consulting, an Africa-focused Social Impact firm that offers strategic communications, strategic research and advisory and intercultural programming services to businesses across Africa. I am also currently pursuing a PhD in Polymer Chemistry from the University of Connecticut in the US.
You are our first guest in Polymer Chemistry; tell us how you joined this world
I was born and raised in Nairobi to two amazing parents, Mr and Mrs. Wambugu. Growing up, my father was particularly keen on ensuring that we got the best education and that our grades were always excellent. I often remember him narrating how education transformed their lives from abject poverty. He wanted us to have better and stable futures through education. At the time, I personally hated school because the other kids at school would call me daft. This lowered my self esteem and confidence greatly that I never really performed well in class. (Actually, I remember telling my elder brother that the only good thing about me was that I had a lovely handwriting).
I took on a new leaf in upper primary after receiving a gift for being the most obedient child in school. This gift made me feel recognised and appreciated. I remember telling my parents that I wanted to feel this good every day at school. Through my observation, smart kids in class were highly favored by the teachers and highly respected by other students. I wanted that for myself. Therefore, I began working my way towards earning this favor and respect. This is how I ended up improving tremendously and becoming the overall best student in school. My classmates eventually stopped calling me daft and excellence thereafter became the driving force behind my academic performance and achievements.
Just like every other child who had read ‘Gifted Hands’ by Ben Carson, I wanted to become a Neurosurgeon. However, I loathed my first Biology class and immediately knew that I needed to find a new science to pursue. Fortunately, I enjoyed Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics in high school. Chemical Engineering aligned perfectly with these subjects. I settled on pursuing Chemical Engineering abroad. However, as fate would have it, I missed an opportunity to pursue the course at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and ended up pursuing Industrial Chemistry from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) where I graduated with a First Class Honors Degree.
I am passionate about focusing my scientific skills in designing products and processes that will eliminate the use of hazardous substances that are degrading the environment. One of my greatest desires as a chemist is to curb the plastic pollution menace not only in Nairobi but also the world at large, hence my PhD pursuit. I believe that despite the fact that plastics are a nuisance to the environment, they are important construction materials with very unique and important uses. Therefore my goal is to collaborate with scientists all over the world to come up with novel polymers (plastics) that can be upcycled. These upcycled plastics will create an opportunity that will make plastics` life cycles more circular, incentivizing their recovery and reuse, thus diverting them from landfills and oceans, consequently reducing plastic pollution and its hazardous effects.
My current role at Baobab Consulting has enabled me to network with like-minded individuals who will be an instrumental part of my career goals as a scientist. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with a large group of very diverse people at Baobab Consulting.
What has been your most challenging moment so far?
The challenge is that we need to collaborate as Africans to bring about the change that we want. We cannot drive the continent to economic prosperity and progress while working in silos. We will also need to fight policies that hinder growth and prosperity.5. What do you enjoy doing outside work?
I can’t agree with your more! But what inspires you to push through life’s challenges?
It’s inspiring to see Africa’s rising potential! I am proud that my generation is driving prosperity and progress for this great continent in all sectors. Being part of this generation encourages me to excel in my field and also contribute to Africa’s prosperity and progress.
What has been you most prestigious moment in your career path?
I was recognised as an Open Source Leader by the Commonwealth. I am also an UBUNTU Fellow and a YALI East Africa Business and Entrepreneurship Alumni.
Who is Waithera out of the “office”?
Outside work, I enjoy volunteering, baking, cooking, traveling, reading and taking long nature walks. I also love connecting with diverse professionals who share similar interests and values at networking dinners and cocktail events.
Do you have a favorite quote?
“You can be anything you want to be, if only you believe with sufficient conviction and act in accordance with your faith; for whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve” ~ Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich: A Black Choice
Another of my favorite quotes is, “Just Do It” ~ Nike.
What are your words of encouragement for a young African girl who wants to pursue Polymer Chemistry?
I would like to urge everyone but specifically to young girls to strive for excellence in all spheres of their lives!
It has been a wonderful session with you, Waithera! Thanks for teaching us about Polymer Chemistry. We wish you the best on your Ph.D. journey.