Dr. Faith Karanja: Problem solving approach by academia would largely endear them to the industry

Qn: Dr. Faith, you are an academician of high standing. What were your steps to becoming the accomplished scholar you are in this field?

My steps involved first enrolling for my first degree program, and then I did a Postgraduate Diploma in Computer Science, followed by a Master’s Degree all from the University of Nairobi. Thereafter I enrolled for a PhD program in Germany. This was meant to equip me with the necessary knowledge and skills in the field of Geo-information. In addition, I have been involved in consultancies, research and networks that have helped me grow in knowledge and skills in the field of Geo-information which is highly dynamic. I have also been an active member in the professional association namely Institution of Surveyors of Kenya, where I chair one of the Chapters, namely GIS.

Qn: Tell us that one very exciting experience in your professional journey.

Creation of the GIS chapter in ISK to take care of professionals in the field of Geo-information which I have the privilege to be the first Chair.

Qn: In 2004, you were a part of a team that presented a paper at an AARSE Conference regarding transforming Survey curriculum to adopt the geospatial aspects. Here we are in 2017, do you think that transformation has occurred?

Yes, it has. The reviewing and repackaging of the Surveying curriculum to reflect the dynamics in the 21st century has opened up new frontiers and opportunities for Geospatial Engineers in the market. The recognition and visibility has been greatly enhanced.

Qn: Do the current Geospatial related programmes across board respond sufficiently to the needs and requirements in the current Geo industry?

An attempt has been made towards that end, but there is still room for improvement. The Geo industry is very dynamic in terms of data needs, processing platforms and application areas. Consequently, there is need to ensure that Geospatial related programs are reviewed continuously to accommodate the technological changes and the ever changing society needs.

Qn: There is the general feeling that ladies are not well represented in the technology field, what’s your take on the number of ladies in the Geospatial Technology field?

The Ladies in the Geospatial Technology field are still very few, this being one of the STEM programs.  Though we have seen some growth in Ladies enrolling in these programs the representation remains low. The situation is even worse as we move up the academic ladder where the transition rates are not encouraging.

Qn.: You have been involved in a number of mentoring initiatives that seek to grow the number of ladies taking up courses in the Geo and related industries. Could you give an indication of the impact these have had?

I am a mentor in the Government of Kenya-UNESCO STEM Mentoring program which involves mentoring girls in secondary schools. Well over 700 girls in various counties have gone through the program.  Demystifying STEM subjects, guidance on making career choices as well as life skills are among the things we expose the girls to. The response has so far been overwhelming and encouraging. Many girls, who had a mindset that STEM subjects are not for them, leave the mentoring session a changed lot. Reports we receive from the schools have also shown improved performance in the subjects.

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Qn: Is there a disconnect between the industry and Academia? What do you propose would help bridge this gap?

Yes there is a disconnect between industry and academia. Improved linkages between industry and academia are needed and a problem solving approach by academia would largely endear them to the industry. A lot of research work is done at the universities but the uptake remains very low. If this scenario was to change we would be able to see a lot of societal problems being solved. The industry in most cases has the state of the art equipment or tools whereas the academia have the pool of knowledge and skills. This synergy can be exploited to improve the relationship between industry and academia.

Qn: We have ISK and also the Geospatial Society of Kenya under development currently. Do you believe these bodies have a role in shaping the Geo Industry and what’s this role in your opinion?

Certainly professional affiliations are important since they act as a check in professionalism and guard against professional misconduct. They also ensure that programs offered at the universities respond to the market needs. They ensure standards are maintained by the professionals as they carry out their activities. However, a point of caution is necessary to avoid having too many professional bodies serving the same catchment hence duplicating efforts. This may lead to confusion to the professionals in terms of which will serve their interests best.

Qn: You can use the following space to pose questions that you would like the industry to be alive to, and some of your thoughts about them.

  • The industry should adopt a more proactive approach in engaging Academia.
  • The industry should opening up more opportunities for attachment and internship.
  • Drawing up of MoUs to facilitate joint projects and research between industry and academia.