If you could have asked Gladys Chelagat Ngetich in Lelaibei primary school, Nakuru county where she’d be two decades later, high chances University of Oxford could not have crossed her mind due to its stature, elitist, rigorous requirements and tuition fees. Perhaps she could have just stated she wanted to be ‘pilot/doctor’ common line among primary school pupils.
Gladys hailed from disadvantaged background with a single parent, mother that saw her thirst for education be quenched in average schools with little or even no resources that could guarantee her success in her academic endeavors.
However, despite scoring measly 298 marks in primary school which is considered average with little prospects of even making it to good secondary school and by extension meting the university grades, Gladys pull a shocker and perform very well in Mercy Girls High school in Kipkelion which guaranteed her a slot in Jomo Kenyatta University to pursue Mechanical Engineering under James Finlay Foundation scholarships.
In her class in JKUAT- Juja, she was one among just 9 ladies in Engineering class with bias towards thermodynamics which saw her graduate with 1st class honors in 2015. “After my undergraduate studies, I wanted to do a post-graduate degree. I wanted a thermodynamics project. The project I found at Oxford (thermofluids) is under the aerospace laboratory,” she told Nation Higher Education magazine in the recent interview.
Her humble backgrounds and scholarships from the well-wishers pushed her to work harder with the imminent support from James Finlay to fund her master degree in condition she performs well being the topmost motivator “I studied at JKUAT under a James Finlay scholarship. They had promised me that if I do very well, they would sponsor my master’s. I was pretty much settled because I knew where I’d get my master’s funding.”
She however chose Rhodes Scholarship program after being introduced by a friend. Its strict and elaborate requirements made her the best candidate for the program. “For Rhodes, you must have and demonstrate three things: leadership, extra-curricular and academic excellence. For the University of Oxford to take you, you must pass very well. I was hesitant at first but I applied and the rest, as they say, is history,” she said.
Gladys was among the 5 shortlisted candidates for the program and were subsequently taken through two phases of interview involving pre-selection dinner and a formal interview which she aced and joined the University of Oxford for PHD program.
Importantly, Oxford offers PHD program if you meet the criteria of the requirements even if you haven’t undergone Masters program unlike the Kenyan Universities.
It’s at Oxford that Gladys academic prowess manifested itself for all and sundry graduating with PHD at the age of 28 after doing research work at Oxford Thermofluids Institute, which prides itself as one of the “most sophisticated turbine and high-speed flow facilities in the UK”. Chepkirui registered a patent for an innovation arising from her research, in collaboration with Rolls-Royce Plc.
Ms Chepkirui also earned Schmidt Science Fellows which “look for the brightest minds in the natural sciences, mathematics, engineering, and computing who are interested in broadening their horizons.” As a Fellow, Chepkirui is undertaking a year-long postdoctoral placement at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA.