Equitech Scholar from Kenya wins the McCall MacBain Scholarship at McGill University

By Anodya Mishra

Ekeno Lokwakai, Equitech Scholar'22 from Kenya has been selected as a McCall MacBain scholar. He is among only ten worldwide recipients of the scholarship that will support a fully funded master’s in electrical engineering at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

A graduate from the University of Nairobi, Ekeno studied for a B.Tech. in Microprocessor Technology and Instrumentation. He was part of the Equitech Scholars program in 2022. Ekeno aspires to use technology tools to solve the problem of resource sharing and scarcity among the Ateker peoples in Kenya. “I belong to the Turkana community of Kenya, where problems like cattle rustling and other pastoralist conflicts have existed for far too long. Through my education and experience, I hope to one day be able to solve the root causes of these conflicts through evidence-based techniques.”

Reflecting on his time as a Equitech Scholar, Ekeno emphasized the uniquely interdisciplinary approach to technology education that provided the perfect foundation to venture into applied AI and data science. “While Bhasi Nair and Abhilash Mishra’s courses taught me how to understand the nuances of data collection and analysis and it's use in building AI, Thomas Murray and Krittika Bhattacharjee’s courses taught me how to express my findings and communicate my story to the world.” Reflecting on his experience meeting the faculty and alumni during the in-person Equitech Nairobi conference he added, “The Equitech Scholars program has been one of the best opportunities of my life. The first time I met the faculty at the Nairobi conference, Thomas came and greeted me with the warmest hug. There was a sense of camaraderie among the entire community. It was such a special moment meeting all the faces I had only seen on screen appear in real life in front of me. ”

Receiving the McCall MacBain Scholarship marks a huge step in Ekeno’s career. “I received support and mentorship from the faculty at Equitech throughout my application process for this scholarship. While Krittika Bhattacharjee guided me on shaping my personal statement, Abhilash Mishra and Thomas Murray helped me with my interview preparation. I remember before my final interview, they told me to be my authentic self and calmly answer the questions asked by the interviewers. I followed this. The night before my interview, I went for a walk with a friend and woke up feeling calm and confident about my preparation.”

Ekeno at the Equitech Futures Nairobi IRL held in 2023.

Ekeno emphasized the importance of gaining knowledge not just about emerging technologies, but also about people who will benefit from these technologies. His volunteering with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers on the Kisima Jangwani project, which aimed to install solar water pumps in Kisima 78 village in Isiolo County of Kenya, underscored this lesson. “Our team knew where to install the pumps, how deep the ground must be dug for it, and what equipment to use for this project. But we had no idea how to resolve the villagers’ anxiety about their water resource being mismanaged by a few community members,” he shares. “We didn’t know how to convince them that we were here to help them.” This experience taught Ekeno the value of addressing people’s concerns and working in collaboration with them alongside knowing technical solutions.

“Benefiting from this experience gave me dual satisfaction—making good use of my skills for my people and gaining field experience by viewing things from the perspective of others,” Ekeno notes. He realized that technologists must collaborate with the beneficiaries of their work at every step of the process.

As an alumnus of the Equitech Scholars program, Ekeno advises future Scholars to balance openness to new ideas with trusting their instincts. “Learn whatever you can from your fellow cohort member. Equitech Futures is a space that welcomes varied ideas, so be vocal about your experiences and point of view. Lastly, make use of the resources provided to you through this program. You have been handpicked by very helpful mentors willing to give you their time and energy, so make sure to benefit from it,” he concludes.

The McCall MacBain Scholarships are Canada’s first leadership-driven scholarships for postgraduate students at McGill University. The scholarship brings together emerging leaders from around the world, from across disciplines, who aspire to "lead with purpose" and make a positive impact in other people's lives. The scholarships were established in 2019 by John and Marcy McCall MacBain, through a landmark $200 million gift to McGill University, the single largest gift in Canadian history.

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