Trailblazer on the loose-Pan Africa Christian University's first female vice-chancellor
Prof Margaret Muthwii talks to Sylvia Wakhisi about being Pan Africa Christian University's first female vice-chancellor and being surrounded by men even at home.
Prof Margaret Jepkirui Muthwii took a deep breath as she walked down the corridors of Pan Africa Christian University (PAC University) situated at Roysambu. It was her first day as the vice-chancellor (she was the first female to hold the position at the institution) and she was nervous.
For sure, she had the qualifications and the brains. Here she was, a full Professor of Language and Linguistics who had earned her Doctor of Philosophy from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England and a Master of Arts from the same university.
At the University of Nairobi where she pursued a Bachelor of Education (Arts) in the 1980s, she had graduated with a First Class Honours.
But she had been tasked with the enormous responsibility of transforming and raising the standards of a university that had for a long time been little known by even its immediate neighbours.
"It was a new season and journey. I had been in the academic world for many years having begun my teaching career at Alliance Girls High School before I went on to become a lecturer at Kenya Science Teachers College and Kenyatta University. But I never imagined I would one day be the leader of a higher education institution," says Prof Muthwii.
When Prof Muthwii took up her new role in January 2014, PAC University was largely a closed-up institution that very few people knew existed. It had been awarded its charter by the Commission for University Education (CUE) in 2008.
"We were not vibrant. Few people talked about us. Even the surrounding community did not know of us," she admits. "Most people thought that PAC was just a theological inclined institution. That the only people who walked in were pastors or those who aspired to become pastors."
When she took over, one of her major tasks was to awaken the sleeping giant and catapult it to the centre of the country's higher education space. And as she puts it, it was no easy feat.
But it is her humility that stands out the most about her. This is evident when she takes us on a short tour around the institution and whenever a staff or student passes by; she is quick to extend a word of greeting. She is bubbly, down-to-earth and easy to talk to.
Prof Muthwii was born and grew up in Baringo in the Rift Valley as the last born of eight siblings. She describes it as a simple, rural and exciting background.
"I am lucky to have had a father who was phenomenal in believing in his children. He didn't discriminate. He loved progress. I vividly recall the first time he took my elder sister to school and he was asked why he was doing that, simply because she was a girl.
He was scorned but that didn't prevent him from educating all of us from his farming proceeds. My mum, a housewife, on the other hand, had a strong Christian character. My Christian faith was inspired by her," says Muthwii.
She began her high school education at Kapropita Girls in Baringo before she joined Machakos Girls for her A-levels. After university, she embarked on her teaching career way back in the 1980s at Alliance Girls High School.
"When I saw the girls perform better than the boys at Alliance High School, I learnt one thing - that women are just as good as the men and there is nothing they can't do," she says.
When she joined Kenyatta University as a Tutorial Fellow in 1987, Margaret rose through the ranks to become the Deputy Registrar (Academics).
In 2001, she joined the United Bible Societies as a Translation Consultant and later became the Africa Area Translation Coordinator. In 2012, she was appointed the Global Translation Advisor.
"I was fairly successful in what I was doing in the NGO world, which was fast-moving and fascinating. I had never thought of going back to the university," she says. "Translation ushered in a totally and exciting new experience in itself.
I worked with people who translated the Bible into the different languages of the world. This meant that I had to learn Greek and Hebrew to understand the original text. It's one of the toughest jobs I have ever done."
She looks at leadership as things that need to be done, being present, motivating people, tackling challenges presented and celebrating the victories.
"Great institutions are built through vision, hard work and dedication. That is what I am driven by," says Muthwii. "In leadership, you rarely look down upon a person because they are either a man or woman. Both do complement each other.
A team, which has no women, misses the point and the same applies to a team, which has no men. We are all created with certain gifting and talents, which if we make use of, we can conquer the world," she says.
With a demanding job on her hands, Muthwii is sometimes up as early as 4am. When she has some work to do, she sits behind her computer and gets to the office at 8am. Many are the days she works late, at least until 8pm.
Prof Margaret Muthwii is married to Samson Muthwii, also a scholar who lectures at the South Eastern Kenya University. They have been blessed with four boys. She attributes her success to her family, who have continued to support her all through.
"It's a struggle excelling on this end, but never losing touch as a mother. Family is my greatest priority," she says. "I have to find a balance between work and home. Probably what suffers most is my little boy who is now nine.
I have made it a habit to help with his school work such that even if I don't do it in the evenings when am caught up with work, in the morning before he sets off to school I have to check through his books to ensure he has done the right thing.
Initially, I was the only lady in the house but I am grateful for the institution of marriage because I now have a daughter (in-law) and a granddaughter," she says.
According to her, raising teenagers and working with young people has been a slightly different experience altogether.
"I have three generations of boys - they were born and grew up in different generations. As teenagers (besides the last born who is now nine, I noticed that they faced a lot of bombardment and pressures that sometimes subjected them to some form of depression.
But by the grace of God, I walked with each of them, praying with them and teaching them to love God and they have now grown into responsible and God-fearing men," says Prof Muthwii.
She adds: "I thank God for my husband who was ever present in their lives to know and understand the different stages they went through and guide them."
In her line of work, Muthwii has earned herself several awards. In 2004, she was nominated by MARQUIS Who's Who in the World, which was prompted by a book she edited, "New Language Bearings in Africa- A fresh Quest". In 2013, she earned recognition for making an outstanding contribution in Bible translation work.
How does she unwind? "I am a member of a group through which we occasionally visit schools to mentor young people. I also love taking part in church-related activities such as Bible study," she says.