Roseline Njogu took a deep breath as she walked down the corridors of Kenyatta University (KU),. It was her first day as a lecturer and she was nervous.
For sure, she had the qualifications and the brains. She had recently earned her Masters of Law degree from Harvard University in the United States, and had just finished a stint with Anjarwalla and Khanna Advocates, a prestigious Nairobi law firm. In high school at Alliance Girls, she had been a straight-A student and was equally studious at the University of Nairobi (UoN) where she had began her journey into Law.
But she was only 27. Her small frame didn’t help the situation much despite the fact that she had worn her best suit and the highest heels she could walk in.
“I was quite young and skinny and was not sure if I would survive my first day. I knew the students were not going to take me seriously hence, I came up with a brilliant plan,” Roseline says.
“When I walked into my first class of about 150 students, they thought I was one of them and continued conversing among themselves. I walked to the front and placed my laptop on the podium; that is when they realised I was their new lecturer. I wrote my name on the board and put up my qualifications and suddenly, there was pin-drop silence in the room. I proceeded to give them a difficult assignment and told them what I expected from them. I had survived my first day.”
With that, Roseline established her standards as a lecturer. She set the rules and urged her students to attend her classes regularly and work hard. Soon, word went round campus about the new, tough and thorough lecturer.
“We proceeded to have a good time with my students. They allowed me to be a great teacher,” says Roseline.
During the interview with Eve Woman, she doesn’t come across as your typical lecturer. She describes herself as a woman of many personalities interwoven in one. She is bubbly, down-to-earth and easy to talk to. She is also beautiful and friendly with a wicked sense of humour.
But it is her intelligence that stands out the most about her. She talks about her high school straight-A days like it was a breeze.
“It was cool to be brainy back in high school. I am one of the few people who say they enjoyed their high school days simply because I had fun. I got to interact with girls from diverse backgrounds and the beauty of it is that it brought us to the same level,” says Roseline.
For Roseline, now 29, life has been about a steady growth – from one level to the next.
Apart from being a lecturer and the Faculty Head of Academic Standards at Riara University Law School, she is also an author. Despite her accomplishments at such a young age, at one point in her life she suffered a great loss that redefined her life.
“I suffered a miscarriage in 2011 and I understand only too well the importance of grieving this type of loss. I cannot even begin to describe what the pain is like. But what I know is that it is a traumatic experience. It can separate your world,” she says.
During this period, she turned to her husband Robert, for comfort and they weathered the storm together.
On the other hand, losing her grandmother a month before her wedding was devastating.
“Her death hit me hard. All I remember is thinking how we were going to carry on with our lives without her. She was a mentor to many. Somehow, we have managed to go on and all we hold are special memories,” she says.
From these experiences, Roseline learnt how to take the rough with the smooth that shaped her into the strong woman she is today.
Born in Kitale in 1984, Roseline grew up as the youngest of five children. Her father worked for the Prisons Service and this saw them move from one town to another. Her mother was a teacher.
Due to the nature of her father’s job, she was forced to change schools often before her parents finally decided to take her to boarding school when she was only nine.
“My parents valued education and they strived to see to it that each of us was in school. All of us went to national high schools. Besides that, they were strict disciplinarians,” she says.
She left the country in 2008 to pursue her Masters of Law from Harvard Law School in the US. According to her, getting accepted into the programme came as a big surprise.
“Earlier on, I had applied to several institutions, Harvard being one of them. However, I only sent the Harvard application and ignored the others. I am one of those people who have idiotic faith. If I believe in something, no matter how ridiculous it sounds, I will still go for it,” she says.
Studying at Harvard, Roseline says, was the best experience ever despite the challenges.
“The class work was difficult such that I thought I was not going to make it. I was sitting in class with judges from different countries and I wondered how I got there and how I would make it,” she says.
“It was a very steep learning curve. There was also the culture shock. But I am grateful to friends who helped me fit in,” she adds.
Roseline returned to Kenya in 2009 and secured a job at Dalberg Global Development Advisors, where her role entailed advising state governments, multilateral organisations such as the United Nations and World Bank and private players on matters of international development such as access to health, access to finance and agriculture.
“It proved to be a great job, but I was unhappy. I was a lawyer trying to fit into management hence, I felt it was not working for me,” she says.
She decided to quit. Around this time, one of her professors from UoN approached her and told her he was a running a legal project, which he wanted her to manage. And that is how she found herself in academia.
“It was very clear that is the path I wanted to follow,” she says, explaining that she taught at KU after that.
While lecturing at KU, Roseline got a call from Prof Sylvia Kang’ara who is the founding Dean of Riara University Law School. She says it set the ball rolling for greater things.
“We met and had a long friendly conversation. We shared our experiences as lecturers and what we could do to offer a solution to the ailing legal education system in the country. We wanted to set up a unique institution that would produce graduates who would leave a positive mark in the country. And that is how Riara Law School was born,” she says.
Roseline joined Riara in August 2012 and says she has found a home. She has no plans to stop lecturing anytime soon.
“It’s been fun and fulfilling. At every stage in my life, I have ended up having a teacher who has been influential. It was no surprise I became a teacher. Our first students of Law will be graduating in 2016. We all look forward to that day because they will be our first fruits,” she says.
According to Roseline, everybody thought she would be a top-notch executive in the corporate world or a commercial lawyer. But she felt otherwise.
“I am a full-time academic by choice. I want to equip our students better. If you are a true academic, you need time to sit, read books and publish more books,” she says.
“On the other hand, I like the pace that my life is taking. If I am not teaching, I have time to spend with my daughter Naima. When you have found the thing that makes you happy, no amount of money can move you from there,” she says.
Photos: Jennifer Wachie