Ernest Ochieng, 21, has just cleared his first year at Ivy League Harvard University, where he is studying Mechanical Engineering. He is on a four-year long full scholarship. This essentially means that all his expenses – from travel to food – are catered for. How did he achieve this?
Speaking to Hashtag three days after jetting back into the country from the United States of America, Ochieng modestly admits to being smart. He scored straight As in the 2014 KCSE examinations and was among the best in the country. But his brain power alone did not get him to Harvard.
“It was a variety of things put together,” he says, matter-of-factly.
Ochieng first began harbouring dreams of going to Harvard in 2014 – his final high school year.
He says: “I knew that the US has the best universities in the world and Harvard especially offered good scholarships”.
On his Joints Admissions Board course application, Ochieng had chosen to study Civil engineering – at the University of Nairobi – as his first option.
In September 2015 he registered as a first year student at the institution and officially became a student. However, towards the end of 2015, the Harvard dream still hovered around his mind.
“I decided to apply to Harvard in December of that year: I completed my application a few hours to New Year,” Ocheing says.
Actualising the application, he says, was the culmination of a year of preparation.
“After clearing high school I sought mentorship. I volunteered at an initiative called PACE (Promoting access to community education) where I was posted to Lang’ata Road Primary School, to teach mathematics and English, to class four and eight pupils.”
At PACE, Ochieng learnt the art of speaking (addressing people) and how to carry himself in public. He also was schooled on how to dress for specific occasions and how to interact with other people. In short, he learnt the basic skills every human being needs to have but most take for granted.
Ernest also volunteered to mentor pupils at his primary school, St Georges, at the journalism club. All along, Earnest himself was being mentored.
“Mentorship meant that I humbled myself to be directed by others who had made it in the same ways I aspired,” he says.
George Gathiani, then a student at University of Washington, was Ochieng’s primary mentor even as he also sought wise counsel from Rev Julius Weche, the founder and CEO of Akad education Group.
“What I offered Ernest was peer and adult mentorship that enabled him better understand his gifts, abilities, passion and calling. This inspired him to realistically aspire for his dreams; which included admission and scholarship to a Harvard University,” Weche says.
Ochieng attended seminars, meetings and conferences organised by Akad – learning how to package himself as someone worthy of Harvard’s time.
While he applied at Harvard, everything he learnt in the year after clearing high school played into it. This includes volunteer work, his interaction with peers, his determination to attend seminars and my time with Akad – everything!”
In March 2016, Ernest received the call he was waiting for from Harvard. On August 11, 2016, he jetted out to live his Harvard dream.