Sarah Kimani

Sarah Kimani has gone from PhD student to dean of the business school at a university in her native homeland, Kenya.

Dr Sarah Kimani, Dean of Catholic University of Eastern Africa’s School of Business
Dr Sarah Kimani, from PhD graduate in Management to Dean of CUEA's School of Business

It wasn't long after completing her PhD at Wellington School of Business and Government that Sarah Kimani’s fellow graduates jokingly gave her the nickname 'VC'. Sarah aspires to being Vice-Chancellor and, as Dean of Catholic University of Eastern Africa's School of Business, is already going in the right direction.

Sarah arrived at Victoria University of Wellington in 2012 to undertake a PhD in Management. Coming from Murang'a in central Kenya, with English as her second language, she had a number of cultural challenges to deal with on top of postgraduate study.

"I had never been to a developed country before, but I wanted to travel to a country far from Kenya. I also wanted to get a high-quality PhD."

She had heard that the University had a "hassle-free PhD application process", which further added to the attraction of a foreign, friendly, and safe country.

Sarah experienced the usual cultural differences of unfamiliar food and the challenging Kiwi accent, but it didn't take long to carve her own place at the University.

She volunteered at the University's Careers and Employment office as the Postgraduate Students’ Association’s commerce faculty representative. She took part in seminars and talks through the International Leadership Programme, was at the forefront of founding the African Students' Association of New Zealand, and joined a students' Christian group.

Prior to her PhD, Sarah was a lecturer at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA) in Nairobi. She had an MBA in Marketing but needed a PhD to become a senior lecturer and eventually a dean.

"I also wanted to entrench myself in academia. I wanted to improve my work performance and I needed a break. Like an eagle, I needed to go up to the mountains, shed off the old stuff and come back renewed."

In three and a half years she completed her thesis comparing the quality of learning and teaching in higher education. During this time, she also had six refereed conference proceedings or publications, presented at three conferences, and is currently looking to publish her thesis in an academic journal.

Sarah appreciated the support from her supervisors Professor Vicky Mabin and Emeritus Professor John Davies, and her fellow PhD students.

"The shared offices allowed us to discuss and share knowledge, and I developed critical thinking skills as a result of such discussions. Moreover, I also had a lot of support on academic writing. This really improved my quality of writing and critical thinking. The PhD seminars and workshops were also great.

"My supervisors challenged me to send papers for conferences. They also presented papers from research work, which we co-authored to the conference they attended. I gained a lot of confidence through their support."

Sarah returned to CUEA where she was promoted to senior lecturer and then dean of the business school—a role she describes as "very challenging, yet very fulfilling".

"I derive my job satisfaction by serving people and making improvements that have positive impact on service delivery. I get all sorts of people in my office: parliamentarians, students, parents, organisational partners, regulators, job seekers, and others. I feel very happy when they leave my office feeling assisted."