Mentoring the next generation of scientists in Kenya

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“You can do it!” was the theme of the International Mentoring Workshop in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics held jointly by the NEA, the International Framework for Nuclear Energy Cooperation (IFNEC) and Kenya’s Nuclear Power and Energy Agency (NuPEA) on 21-23 July 2021. The event built on the success of seven previous NEA workshops held in Japan, Russia and Spain and was the first-ever held in Africa.

The three-day workshop opened with remarks from NEA Director-General William D. Magwood, IV, IFNEC Steering Group Chair Aleshia Duncan and NuPEA CEO and IFNEC Steering Group Vice-Chair Eng. Collins Gordon Juma, MBS. Keynote lectures were given by Hon. Charles Keter, EGH, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Energy, Kenya, and Dr Kathryn D. Huff, Acting Assistant Secretary and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Nuclear Energy, US Department of Energy. Greg Lamarre, Head of the NEA Division of Radiological Protection and Human Aspects of Nuclear Safety, moderated the workshop.

During his opening remarks, NEA Director-General Magwood encouraged the participating students to pursue education and careers in STEM. “The world has many challenges ahead and we can’t solve them without talented and dedicated people. You as the next generation are the people we will need to address these many issues,” he said. “We believe that you can do it. Whatever your dream is, you can do it if you put your mind to it.”

The workshop brought together 46 high school students from Kenya with engineers, researchers and scientists from Kenya and NEA member countries: Rumina Velshi, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC); H.E. Professor Judi Wakhungu, Ambassador of Kenya to the French Republic; Marie-France Bellin, Chairperson of the Institut de Radioprotection et de Sûreté Nucléaire, (IRSN) Board of Directors; Winnie Ndubai, Director of Strategy and Planning, Nuclear Power and Energy Agency (NuPEA); Tatiana Ivanova, Head of the NEA Division of Nuclear Science; Nadir Hashim, Senior lecturer and former Chairman, Department of Physics, Kenyatta University; and Grace Ateka, Metrology Officer, Dosimetry Laboratory, Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS).

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The participating students expressed that they learnt about the importance of resilience and a positive attitude from the mentors. Ms Lynn Muiruri, a student who participated in the workshop, noted that the workshop gave her determination. “I am now sure that I have made the decision to involve myself fully 100% in the field of science,” Ms Muiruri said. “To everybody out there who is also seeking assurance, I would tell you to dream big and to get out of your comfort zone. Never stop learning.”

The event marked the first ever mentoring workshop organised by the NEA in Africa. Kenya, which is Africa's seventh largest economy and has a population of 52.5 million people, is embarking on a nuclear power programme to meet future electricity demand and aims to start a nuclear power project around the end of the decade.  The NEA engages Kenya through its co-operation with the International Framework for Nuclear Energy Cooperation.

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“The nuclear power programme will provide economic benefits to the country by ensuring security of energy supply, industrial growth, low cost and stability of electricity prices, reduced emissions of greenhouse gases, and support to the National Development Agenda - the Big 4 and the Vision 2030,” noted Minister Keter. “Most of you mentees who are here today, and many young Kenyans will be at the helm, driving this agenda of the peaceful application of nuclear science and technology in the country.”

Gordon Juma added: “I am optimistic that we shall hold this mentorship workshop on an annual basis with an aim of shaping the young minds towards building the skills relevant for the support of Kenya’s development.”

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