RARE  RISINGSTARS - The UK’s Top 10 Black Students
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No. 3


Gladys Ngetich

PhD Aerospace Engineering
University of Oxford

Gladys Ngetich

Gladys’ journey from Kenya to the UK is an extremely powerful, emotional and inspiring tale to be told. She has overcome the toughest obstacles to become the sensational individual that she is today. Gladys’ story is a reflection of more than just an incredible work ethic. She dreamt of big things, things which might have seemed impossible right from the very beginning. Nevertheless, she made it to Oxford University from Rift Valley, Kenya, and is now pursuing a PhD in Engineering Science (Aerospace). Despite the personal challenges that she has faced, Gladys is now rising to the peak of her field, showing us all that it really can be done.

Gladys grew up in a family of nine in the tiny village of Amalo in Rift Valley, Kenya, where life was not easy particularly for a girl. Where she comes from, early and often abusive marriages are the challenges young girls face. She was saved from all these by her mother– Gladys’ greatest inspiration and cheerleader. Her mother, who did not go past high school education because of an earlier marriage, has remained a strong pillar in Gladys’ academic journey.

“My mother is the reason why I am here today.”

Gladys grew up around sports and science: two of her brothers studied engineering and often got involved with handball, soccer and athletics. This was the start of Gladys’ incredible academic and extra-curricular career. Her educational background in Kenya is remarkable. Her primary school was built using locally available timber. The floors weren’t cemented, and the school had barely any resources. Her transition to high school was difficult. She was the laughing-stock of her class because her command of the English language at that time was poor and she would mix up English words with her native language, Kalenjin, and Swahili. Despite this, she ended up graduating from Mercy Girls Secondary School with the highest grade in English. In addition, she scored the highest grade the school had ever recorded, emerging the best student in the whole Kipkelion district in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) results of 2008, winning James Finlay Scholarship awarded to exceptional students to pursue undergraduate studies in Kenya.

She then went on to study BSc in Mechanical Engineering at Kenya’s top engineering university - Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT). She kept the same resilient spirit, scooping top awards, both in sports and academics all through her undergraduate studies. In 2013, she was awarded the Barbaroa Excellence Award for emerging the best student in her class and also won the Engineer. B. K. Kariuki Award for the best student in Engineering Thermodynamics. In sports, she was elected as Captain for both the University Women Athletics and Football teams. She competed in the Kenya University Games where she won a total of 7 athletics medals: 3 gold, 2 silver and 2 bronze. Gladys was also selected to represent her university at the 7th and 9th editions of the East Africa University games. Her proudest moment was when she made it to the Kenyan National Athletics selection for the 14th IAAF World Championships in Moscow. She also served as a Class Representative – a leadership position she kept for five years. In 2015 Gladys graduated with distinction. Her exceptional academic performance combined with the inspirational leadership and sports prowess earned her the Rhodes Scholarship to pursue PhD in Engineering Science at the University of Oxford.

Gladys continued to raise the bar even higher when she joined Oxford. She recently received a patent in collaboration with the Rolls Royce Plc. Gladys’ research work has been featured in top articles that have been distributed across the UK including BBC Science, the Oxford Science Blog and Medium. Early this year, she was awarded the prestigious ASME IGTI Young Engineer Turbo Expo Participation Award; awarded to young engineers to present a paper they have authored at the annual American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) conference. Outside her research, Gladys tutors engineering undergraduate students at Oriel College.

She continues to shine in extracurricular activities. In 2015, she was named the Top-Scorer in the Oxford University Women Soccer Cuppers. She is also an Oxford Blue Athlete for 400 m hurdles and 100 m hurdles. She was recently selected to compete in the prestigious Ivy League Athletics between Oxford and Cambridge and Penn and Cornell. In 2016, she was awarded the Tanenbaum Fellowship - an annual competitive fellowship awarded to Rhodes scholars for a multifaceted program in Israel. In April 2018, she was awarded the Skoll World Forum Fellowship as a budding inspirational social entrepreneur: she is the co-founder and CEO of the ILUU Organisation headquartered in Nairobi which mentors, inspires and empowers girls from the rural parts of Kenya. This year, she has been shortlisted for the McKinsey & Company Next Generation of Women Leaders Award.

Gladys is on the path to becoming a leading pioneer in Aerospace Engineering. She has shattered the stereotypes forced upon her and is now an accomplished STEM ambassador seeking to inspire the next generation of female engineers. She recently served in the EngineerGirl Markers Panel - EngineerGirl is an organisation that works to inspire young girls into STEM. She is currently working with the Beyond Boundary Oxford Project and IF Oxford Science Festival organising exciting engineering projects aimed at raising profile of black women in engineering. Gladys’ story is one of a kind. We can all learn something from her inspirational journey.

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