Scholastica Kariuki-Githinji is Dean of School of Arts and Humanities at Daystar University.
My morning routine keeps changing. There are times I will be in the office at 6am, which means that I would have woken up at 4am. Whatever the time, when I wake up, I pray and meditate and read my daily Bible verse before heading out, either to Daystar’s main campus in Athi River or the Nairobi Campus. There are days, though, when I will focus on research and other work stuff before heading out.
As the dean of the School of Arts and humanities, I manage the various departments. I am also the head of the education department and that entails managing the teaching and learning process. My days are filled with meetings with the faculty and students. Most of them are scheduled meetings and that allows for easy planning. As a dean, I’m supposed to teach three hours a week, but sometimes I do six to nine hours.
In my early years, I had good teachers who mentored me. I had models who I wanted to emulate. I knew that’s what I wanted to be. I love teaching, being in class, preparing lectures, interacting with students, mentoring them. I also like the facilitation and making sure that I am enabling faculty to give the services that students require.
As a teacher and a manager, one of the challenges I face is burnout. We teach throughout the year except when you have a month’s leave; there is coursework to be covered, programme management, and programme reviews (we are constantly reviewing our programmes), you have to ensure classes are being attended and that students are satisfied. Juggling all that can take a toll on a faculty. But we have learnt skills in managing that. These include good time-management, planning and prioritising. One also needs to be self-aware, so that you know how much you can take, know when you’re not being productive. To decompress I spend time with my family, I pray, read my Bible, read books outside academia and take part in community service and church activities. I also love listening to music, especially on the drive to work.
It usually takes me a while to finish reading a book that is outside the usual academic books I read. The last great thing I read was Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. He makes a good point that everyone needs a support system. The book explains why people fail or succeed. If a supportive environment lacks, be it a person, family, a school, even the most intelligent of people will not go far.
Being a teacher has made me conscious of people’s needs, and this informed my training in counselling psychology at master’s level and now I am an educational psychologist. This has also informed my leadership style. I am caring and nurturing, yet firm. I have trouble being confrontational or forceful, and my advice to would-be leaders is to avoid autocratic styles of leadership. People will comply, but when you’re not around they will fall back to old ways because force does not work. But consultative leadership can better help you effectively realise shared goals.
There are many things I know now that I wish I knew back when I was younger. I had my children in the late 80s and early 90s. As a young mother, I did what my parents did and there are some mistakes I made such as beating my children. As a result of my training and research on parenting and adolescent behaviour, now I know it is not right because it negatively affects children. For instance, it can make them timid. I would tell my younger self to save better because I now know it is possible no matter how much you’re earning; I would tell myself to get my PhD first before settling down. But then again, life circumstances do not usually go your way. There are certain factors that prompt things to happen at a certain time and not another; there is a way that God always compensates. When you have God in your life there is a way He aligns your steps so that all things work for good.
Recently, I listened to a talk by a psychologist explaining the current levels of suicide among young people.It just awoke what I already knew, that an adolescent is someone who can be very confused. At one point, the surrounding world is considering them a child and at another time an adult. That by itself is very alienating; they are not able to tell who they are and it dawned on me as a psychologist how much we need to do for adolescents. This is a population who we suddenly think are adults and give little attention to. Most of the time we just complain about them. We need to sensitise ourselves about their needs, hopes and fears. We need to engage them and that will not happen until we are in a loving and caring relationship with them. And again, we need to formalise counselling in this country. We need trained psychologists in schools.
I interact a lot with young people and when they are looking for career direction, I always first ask what they are good at, and then ask them what their passion is. Then I ask them to find out how they can marry the two.
I have received a lot of career advice throughout my life but the constant one was I have to make time for research. We are busy, and it is easy to just sit back and say I’ve taught and that’s it. But as a scholar, you have to generate knowledge because that informs your teaching.
I have come to realise that without God you can’t succeed in whatever you do. God is at the core of what I do. This is what drives me. It doesn’t matter what I do, if it is not for God then it is useless.