Born to teach

UND professor receives Carnegie fellowship to travel to Uganda to mentor others in academic writing for publication

Sagini Keengwe

Sagini “Jared” Keengwe goes over instructions with UND students during one of his classes on campus. The UND Professor of Teaching and Learning recently was named a Carnegie African Diaspora Fellow and will depart in June for Uganda to mentor scholars there on academic writing and publishing. UND Today photo.

Sagini “Jared” Keengwe tried to make a career change away from teaching after moving to the United States from his home in rural Kenya in 1999.

But growing up with K-12 teachers for parents and having been a teacher himself with a bachelor’s degree in English, the profession was running through his veins.

“My master’s was in communications and I definitely wanted to go into journalism,” said Keengwe, a UND professor of teaching and learning. “But after being a graduate teaching assistant, I felt I needed to go back to teaching.”

Starting in June, Keengwe will be doing what he does best at Nkumba University in Uganda. He recently was awarded a fellowship by the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program. The program focuses on providing funds to African-born scholars living in the United States for educational projects at select African universities.

“They’re looking to prevent the ‘brain drain’ — the loss of well-educated professionals who seek opportunities especially in western countries,” Keengwe said. “This gives African-born academics an opportunity to go back, connect and share their skills and knowledge with fellow scholars.”

Brain drain

At Nkumba University, Keengwe will mentor African university faculty and graduate students on writing and publishing their work, and he’s eager to get started. The brain drain in African academia is an extremely important issue to Keengwe. He believes programs such as the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship can turn the brain drain to brain gain, helping the knowledge to circulate back to Africa and ultimately providing more opportunities for everyone.

“Most African-born scholars who work in the U.S. and Canada don’t go back,” Keengwe said. “It’s important that we do not forget where we came from.”

Sagini Keengwe

Keengwe, a native of Kenya, poses with a group of faculty members and graduate students at Central University of Technology at Free State Province, South Africa, during one of his periodic visits to his home continent to teach and mentor. Photo courtesy of Keengwe.

The opportunity to teach in Africa is nothing new for Keengwe. He was a K-12 teacher in Kenya before relocating to the United States for graduate school. Each summer for the past five years, he’s been funding his own trips to teach and provide free academic writing workshops at Kenyan universities.

He’s also provided similar workshops in Tanzania and in the Free State Province of South Africa.

“I do it to keep ties with my background,” Keengwe said. “For me, that’s giving back to the community.”

Validation

With the Carnegie Fellowship, Keengwe will receive funding for travel to Uganda and a daily stipend during the duration of the writing workshops. He applied for the scholarship in the fall of 2015. However, it was not until July that NKumba University in Uganda requested expertise and skills that matched his background.

Keengwe’s says his greatest professional accomplishments have been in academic writing for publication. Since receiving his doctorate in 2006, he’s had roughly 85 journal articles, book chapters and books published, including 20 scholarly reference textbooks.

Beginning as an assistant professor at UND in 2007, Keengwe was granted full professorship last year.

“When I arrived at UND, I was really focused on getting published and it served me well,” Keengwe said. “There’s that old adage, ‘you publish or perish.’”

It’s a point that Keengwe will drive home during his Carnegie fellowship at Nkumba University. The primary idea is to establish a culture of academic writing and publishing in the African context, Keengwe said. Unless there is a healthy and collegial environment for research to flourish in Africa, its most talented academics will look overseas for opportunity.

For Keengwe, teaching in his homeland is as strong as ever — maybe even stronger. He says he’s worked hard to hone his teaching and research skills and to get his scholarly work published.

“This (the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship) is like a validation of my expertise and achievements,” Keengwe said. “After receiving this fellowship, I feel like, finally my academic work has been validated.”