Growing up in Nairobi’s Kibera slums, Joan Kwamboka ‘s life was routinely interrupted by communicable disease outbreaks. Flare-ups of malaria — the disease that Kwamboka would eventually call her “favorite” — meant that she couldn’t travel to the countryside during holidays or take school trips that involved large bodies of water.
While many in her community in Kibera reacted with fear of these periodic epidemics, Joan Kwamboka was fascinated. “I wanted to know how these diseases operated, why they affected people differently, why certain regions were associated with particular diseases, and, most importantly, why I couldn’t travel like others,” Joan Kwamboka said.
She is currently a Masters candidate in Biomedical Informatics at Arizona State University in the College of HealthSolutions.
Multi-talent or Pure Genius: What makes Joan Kwamboka stand out?
Joan Kwamboka calls herself a scientist who is an artist. She completed her undergraduate at Arizona State University on a MasterCard Foundation Scholarship majoring in Biological Sciences (Gen, Cell & Dev. Bio) and an upcoming photographer.
Before you continue reading this, I highly recommend this article about Ghana Beyond Aid Agenda: The Possibility of an Independent Ghana and the effect it will have on other African countries.
It will give you a great juxtaposed perspective of where Ghana is today in relation to the economy and freedom from neo-colonialism. Click here to open the Ghana Beyond Aid Article in a new tab.
Kwamboka is not your regular girl. She is a multi-talented and disciplined soul with ruthless focus on whatever she places her desire on. To emphasise what we mean by Multi-talented, we will list some of the skills she excels at (Even we couldn’t believe that she is good at all this until we experienced it):
- Painter: (Check out some of her work here)
- Song writer: (She did a song about Fatuma with our co-founder Onyango Otieno – it is somewhere on sound cloud)
- Public Speaker: (To handle the crowd at Fatuma’s Voice one definitely has to be a great speaker)
- Volley Ball Player: (Played pro representing several groups in Kenya)
- Photographer: (She took a good number of photos at the Fatuma’s Voice forum and is currently under the tutelage of an American photographer and gallery owner, Allan Fitzgerald.) Alan Fitzgerald founded Art Intersection in 2010 and repurposed almost 7,400 square feet of a defunct dance studio into three galleries, Ryan Gallery, North and South Gallery, three darkrooms, a digital lab, and a workspace that serves as a resource center for both emerging and established artists.
- Guitarist: (Yea…)
- Dancer: (Really good dancer! We have some unreleased footage)
- Fashion Model: (Her graceful hight and sense of style says it all)
- Poet: (She joined Fatuma’s Voice as a poet and took initiative to explore more roles)
- Writer: (Aren’t all poets…?)
- and more passionately, Health Enthusiast.
We have to add that she is so good and passionate about each of these skills, that if you know her as one of the above you wouldn’t believe she does anything else.
Fatuma’s Voice was privileged to work with Kwamboka when we begun. She was the host of the Fatuma’s Voice forum alongside an equally passionate Nuru Bahati. Her laughter and energy would light up the whole room and gave us the psyche to build this vision.
She however had to travel to the US for studies at the prestigious Arizona State University but is always part of the Fatuma’s Voice Family. This was after selection into the prestigious Zawadi Africa Girls Program.
Outside class, Kwamboka is a photographer under the tutelage of an American photographer and gallery owner, Allan Fitzgerald.
She was also the official student photographer for the MasterCard Foundation Scholarship Program (MCFP) at Arizona State University tasked with documenting the works of other scholars.
It is a position she requested to be charged with to practice her skill. She was the Social Media and Marketing Director for the New American Youth Initiative (NAYI). Through ASU mentorship, youth refugees are integrated into a new culture.
NAYI is a student organization that is involved in promoting the integration and participation of refugees in Phoenix in their communities.
Fascination with disease leads to a career solving health challenges with data
Her interest only grew once she entered high school, and it continued after she came to ASU as an undergraduate on a full-ride MasterCard Foundation scholarship. She majored in biological sciences and started focusing on malaria. It was during an internship at the Kenya Medical Research Institute Centre for Global Health Research that she had one of the most significant “aha” moments of her career.
The researchers were using computational methods to make connections between malaria, Epstein-Barr virus and Burkitt’s lymphoma. “It was the first time I realized that data could be used to solve mysteries surrounding diseases,” she said, and when she returned to ASU, she learned about the biomedical informatics program and decided to pursue her master’s degree at the College of Health Solutions.
Interview with Kelly Krause of Arizona State University and Joan Kwamboka:
As one of the most impressive spring 2019 ASU graduates, Joan Kwamboka sat down with Kelly Krause, the Communications Specialist, College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University.
In this interview, she (Kwamboka) talks more about how she is solving world health Challenges with Data:
Question 1: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?
Answer: I learned that you can and should combine different fields to solve problems, and that you should share your ideas and seek input from others. For instance, I minored in fine art history in my undergraduate program because of my interest in the visual representation of ideas. In my quest to learn and share information about diseases, I see how health practitioners use visual representation to design technology systems that can communicate complex ideas to those who have little understanding of them.
Q 2: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I initially chose ASU for my undergrad because of my fascination with the physical landscape and desert climate. I thought I would pursue a degree in physical geography and document the different diseases and cultures of the world. However, I came across biological sciences and the option to concentrate in genetics, cells and developmental biology which appealed to my goal of understanding and contributing to the discourse of diseases. When I looked at graduate schools and talked to professors about my interests, I knew ASU was the right choice still.
Q 3: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: My master’s adviser, Anita Murcko, taught me that being a leader and service provider is to listen, ask for constructive feedback and constantly improve based on the feedback. We have worked together for two years, introducing students to clinical informatics, and we give great importance to student feedback. The clinical informatics course was previously offered at the graduate level only, but we have refined it to a level that undergraduates can participate in because we take their feedback into consideration.
Q 4: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Broaden your horizons. Constantly look at the big picture and ask for help when necessary. If possible, identify a need and learn how you can contribute with your unique skill set.
Q 5: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: During the day, I loved the third floor of Noble Library. It’s a quiet place with plenty of natural light, and the view outside is just gorgeous. In the early evening, my favorite spot was by the MU North Stage where the light changes to amazing shades, and there is always music playing in the background on weekdays. And Sparky’s Den was also a favorite. I loved that I could play a game or two in between classes with random students.
Q 6: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I’ll be working with data, designing informatics content for undergraduates and preparing for medical school. I want to use the informatics concepts I have learned in my program and integrate informatics with a clinical practice career.
Q 7: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I would fund research and projects to accelerate diagnosis for both common and rare diseases. It is complex and painful already that some people suffer more than others. Expediting their diagnoses is a worthy cause that will help patients’ care teams, save money and increase our understanding if there are multiple diseases involved.
What next for Joan Kwamboka?
Her core passion lies in the scope of Data Science, Quality Improvement, informatics, instructional design and clinical environment (Healthcare Information Management). Our hope is that local Kenyan institutions can accommodate her genius and equip her with the resources and support to improve the healthcare in Kenya.
We have seen a lot of brain drain where our very best are poached by others because we don’t create a space for them to create and excel. The healthcare system in Kenya is not at its best and we could use the input of the likes of Kwamboka. However, we have recently seen the government importing doctors from foreign countries like Cuba.
Below are some of the projects Kwamboka has been working on:
Better health outcomes require better solutions.
Improving health for everyone means reaching people where they live, learn, work and play throughout their lifespan — and at the College of Health Solutions, that’s Kwamboka’s entire focus.
She is committed to translating scientific health research and discovery into practice by working together with researchers, students and community partners to solve specific health challenges.
Her faculty prepares her to reimagine health and create a better future by addressing the challenges facing people to stay healthy, improve their health and manage chronic disease.
One of the projects she worked on is based on T Cell Receptors:
Unlocking the Diagnostic Potential of T Cell Receptors:
In humans, cellular immunity is mediated by T cells. T cell receptors (TCRs) are essential to T cell function. The receptors possess a great diversity generated during T cell development sufficient to recognize any peptide, respond to and neutralize the threat.
TCRs selectively bind specific antigens as peptides displayed by major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules on the surface of antigen presenting cells. Recognition of the peptide–MHC complex occurs on the third hypervariable region termed complementarity determining region 3 (CDR3) on the α and β chains of the TCR causing the T cells to proliferate and mount an immune response.
However, the precise information about which antigens are actually recognized has become a critical bottleneck. Presented here is a high throughput analysis pipeline that includes a schema for aligning and characterizing TCR sequences and identifying those TCRs that are specifically expanded by the target antigen; M1 protein. Our findings show that these expanded clones feature recurrent CDR3 β chain amino acid sequences with the same V and J gene usage.
Furthermore, the amino acid sequences are derived from different nucleotide sequences indicating that different clones converge on the same recognition site. This reveals the potential to use these TCRs as diagnostic biomarkers. While primarily focused on TCRs that react to well-defined influenza proteins, our approach is applicable to any disease state where T cell immunity is implicated.
Just before you leave…
Here’s an article that we highly recommend you to read now.
It is a look into the Destructive Myths about Virginity that need to be Forgotten Now. More about How Society uses the Concept of Virginity to control Women.
Make sure you read the comments too. Just to see how different people think when it comes to sexuality. Click here to open the article in a new tab.
Zawadi Africa: Empowering Women to Develop their Communities:
The Zawadi Africa Education Fund was founded in 2002 by Dr Susan Mboya, and is based on the highly successful Kennedy-Mboya Africa Student Airlifts Program
Zawadi Africa Education Fund is a leadership development program that provides university scholarships and leadership development and life skills training to academically gifted but financially disadvantaged African girls, with the objective of developing a pipeline of young African women leaders.
About the Zawadi Africa Education Fund:
Zawadi Africa was formed with the belief that together with a world class education and the right character development, these young African women will be able to return to their home countries empowered and equipped with the skills needed to make significant, positive impact in their communities in a continent where traditionally women have not had a voice in the development of their community.
Kennedy-Mboya Africa Student Airlifts Program:
The Zawadi Africa Education Fund was founded in 2002 by Dr Susan Mboya, and is based on the highly successful Kennedy-Mboya Africa Student Airlifts Program of the 1960’s, pioneered by Tom Mboya, (Dr. Mboya’ s father), and President John F. Kennedy.
The Kennedy/Mboya airlifts educated over 1000 bright young East Africans who went on to become Africa’s post-independence leaders. They include, among their alumni, the late Professor Wangari Maathai (Nobel Peace Prize Laureate), and Barack Obama Sr., Father of President Barack Obama. Zawadi Africa Education Fund is a 501 (c) 3 registered in the US.
How to Apply for Zawadi Scholarship:
2019 Applications are now open:
How to Apply for Zawadi 2019 Applications are now open. Deadline for Kenya, Uganda and Mozambique is April 5th, 2019.
To be eligible to apply for this scholarship, the following criteria must be met the following criteria:
- A girl who has completed her secondary school examination e.g.The Kenya Certificate of Secondary Examination (KCSE)
- Has demonstrated academic excellence (A Plain or A Minus)
- Has demonstrated leadership qualities e.g. in school as a prefect, in the community, church, leadership in peer related activities etc.)
- Has overcome insurmountable odds such as serious financial challenges, oppressive social-cultural practices such as early marriages and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) etc. in order to attain academic excellence.
- Come from a financially disadvantaged background.
- Has demonstrated clear financial need
Zawadi Application – Frequently Asked Questions:
What are the eligibility requirements for the Zawadi program?
- Be a female student
- Have an A or an A- in your KCSE exams.
- Have undertaken a leadership role(s) in your school and/or community.
- Come from a financially needy background.
- Should have completed high school no more than two years before applying to Zawadi Africa.
If I studied GCSE, IGCSE or any non-8-4-4 curriculum, am I eligible to apply?
Once accepted in the Zawadi Africa Program, what does the application process involve
- Zawadi Africa takes the students enrolled in the program through a rigorous nine-month period where the student will be coached and prepared to apply to partner schools offering scholarships.
How to get to the Zawadi Africa office(s).
Zawadi Africa Education Fund-Kenya
Lenana Road, Kilimani
Cathy Flats, Suite No. 4
Zawadi Africa Education Fund-Ghana
DUES Club(Opp Cal Bank)
22 Independence Ave,Ridge
P.O. Box AN 12832 AN
Can I apply for a Masters or PhD Program through the Zawadi Africa Program?
Which countries does Zawadi Africa currently work in?
- Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique and Ghana.
How can I apply for a Zawadi scholarship?
- Applications are opened every February and closed in April of each year.
If you meet the above criteria, please download the Zawadi 2019 Application forms for your respective country below:
Sample Application form: Zawadi Africa Undergraduate Scholarships for Women