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Making the impossible possible

January 10, 2019

Joseph Ogega, smiling, stands next to green foliage.

Uncertainty and risk have followed Joseph Ogega like a shadow since he was a child.

Raised by a single mother in Nairobi, Kenya, he and his three younger sisters lost their mother to AIDS. Ogega, then 13, and his sisters were sent to a relative’s home nearly 300 miles away.

Ogega sought solace in books and learning. He earned government-sponsored scholarships to attend high school and then college in Nairobi, where he received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics.

Two years later, seeking greater opportunities for himself and his sisters, Ogega landed in the Twin Cities. He had heard about the University of Minnesota from a cousin. He enrolled in the College of Science and Engineering (CSE), but after his first semester, anticipated funding from sponsors in Kenya failed to materialize.

“I was so worried and thought I had to drop out of school,” Ogega says.

Fortunately, CSE offers paid experiential learning that pairs students with faculty. He found a research assistant position and eventually a mentor in the person of Dan Mitchell, an assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering. The experience gave Ogega new skills and a new perspective on his career.

Fast-forward to May 2018, when Ogega graduated with a master’s degree in financial mathematics. Within weeks he had received a job offer, and that summer he moved to West Palm Beach, Florida, to work for Nextera Energy, the largest electrical power holding company in the country.

Looking back on his journey, Ogega notes that life would still be very uncertain without everything he learned—and the professional support he received—at CSE.

“When we lost our parents, the only thing we could cling to was education,” he says. But “I feel like everything is possible now.”

Read more of Ogega's story