The Journey of a Lifetime: Biology Professor Introduces Augustana Students to Native Country of Kenya

By Jill Wilson | May 02, 2024
Games With Kenyan Children

Patrick Vogel ‘26 always knew he wanted to study abroad at some point during his time at Augustana — possibly during his junior or senior year.

Patrick Vogel With Kenya Student

That quickly changed after Vogel learned about the opportunity to take a January Interim (J-Term) course called Glimpses at the Intersection of Global Food Security & Education. Taking the course would mean traveling with Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Sally Mallowa to her native country of Kenya, along with Instructor of Education Kristin Grinager ‘97, who is a world traveler with experience teaching English as a second language (ESL) and human relations. 

“I think there’s a study abroad for everyone, but not every study abroad is for every person — that’s definitely something to sit down and decipher before embarking on a journey like this,” said Vogel.


And, what a journey it was.


The biology major from Sioux Falls, who is also minoring in chemistry and neuroscience, described the experience as “life changing.”

In their nearly month-long trip, Vogel and 13 other AU students learned how food security, education, health systems and policies impact the welfare, decision-making and resiliency of the people in Kenya. They did so by immersing themselves in the local communities they visited. And, in turn, they made authentic connections. 

“I was trying to prepare my heart and my mind to be 100% open,” explained Vogel. “I think it’s difficult to talk about the trip and all the experiences without first going to the people. The experiences we had and the people we met changed my worldview.”


AU Students Classroom DemonstrationsThe group began their journey in Nairobi. After reading a book about its founders, the students visited Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), a community-based organization that links girls’ schools in one of the country’s most pronounced slums to essential services. They also spent time with the Fun & Education Global Network (FEGNe) that engages learners from across the globe by preparing and demonstrating science experiments at local schools. 


“I was amazed at how gracious and kind everyone was in Kenya,” said Grinager. “The Augustana students were amazing. The time in the schools was really fun. I told the students, ‘I know you’re not all education majors,’ but I was so impressed with what they did in the classrooms and with the students.”

Among many other experiences in Kenya’s capital city, the group visited the Giraffe Centre and David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a rescue and rehabilitation program for orphaned elephants and rhinos, as well as the Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), where farmers are looking at innovative ways to make gluten-free products from cassava root. 

The group then visited Nyanza, near the shores of Lake Victoria, to learn about the local culture, including a stop at Kit-Mikayi — a famous, sacred stone — and Maseno Equator Point.


The next stop was Siaya County where Mallowa and her husband’s villages are located. The group spent two weeks engaged in service-learning, which included stops at the homes of community members and activities with teachers and students in local schools. Here, they learned more about the education system and what food security means to the people they visited. 


Giraffes in Kenya“This specific group (of AU students) was insightful, thoughtful, compassionate. There’s a certain kind of student who goes to Africa, so they already have those qualities. I think they were in a lot of uncomfortable situations that they were very gracious about. I really appreciated that from the students,” Mallowa said.


The Augustana students were also involved in a ceremony in which secondary school students were awarded tuition scholarships necessary to attend Mudhiero High School. The organization that supports these scholarships was created by Mallowa and named after her parents, Sam and Hannah Obura, alumni of the high school. The AU community has also been known to support these scholarships, including Augustana’s TriBeta Honor Society and Biology Club.


“We certainly saw a lot of people who work really hard to put food on the table for their families, to have a place to live and then send their kids to school. I think one of the things that stuck out to all of us, especially the Augie students, was the appreciation that students had for education,” noted Grinager.


“It’s $77 for the year to go to school and that can be difficult for some families,” explained Grinager. “It was, at times, overwhelming to think about how easily we spend $77 — all those little things we take for granted. It’s always good to be reminded how lucky we are really by chance.”

Figs Hospital Opening

Augustana students then got a glimpse at how education affects health by visiting a health- centered organization called the Matibabu Foundation. In an event celebrating the organization’s 20-year partnership with Tiba Foundation Champions of the Boda Girls, the students were able to attend the opening of a new hospital with many dignitaries, including the U.S. ambassador to Kenya and the founders of FIGS Scrubs. Of course, Mallowa served as emcee of the event. 

“I think everyone in Kenya knows Sally,” joked Grinager. “She’s very well connected and respected. People have just wonderful things to say about her and the work that she’s doing on their behalf to really promote education and help people in Kenya achieve their goals. She provided us opportunities to meet with so many different people, whereas, if we just had been there on our own, we would have missed out on some of those really rich experiences.”


The last leg of their trip was spent at Jaffrey Academy, a private school in Mombasa.


“You get a holistic view,” explained Mallowa. “If you just went to the slum, a rural school, you could live with the danger of a single story.”


“I hope that they remember that there's not one person or one thing that defines Kenya any more than there is one person or one thing that defines the United States,” Grinager reinforced.


Finally, the group got some downtime with a visit to a marine park and the beach. However, Vogel said his heart remained with the people he had met the days and weeks prior.


“The final week we spent time in Mombasa by the Indian Ocean just doing touristy things and unwinding, but I would give days at the beach for another couple of hours with those kids,” said Vogel. “Many years later, I think that will be true for everyone who went on this trip as things happen in life. There’ll be parts of Kenya that also connect with your experiences,” said Grinager.

AU Students in Kenya '24 Shirts

This is Mallowa’s second time bringing a group of Augustana students to Kenya for J-Term — the first was in 2022 as part of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ (ECA) IDEAS Program to assist colleges and universities in creating, broadening and expanding their study-abroad programming in support of U.S. foreign policy goals. Now, with a second trip behind her, she can’t help but think of what an honor it is to have such a platform.

“It’s a win, a win for everybody — the impact Kenyan and American students have on each other,” said Mallowa. “I think a lot of our students are afraid to embrace their impact. I hope we can normalize seeing Americans in our village, but also that somebody doesn't need to come from America to be that change.


“It’s a different kind of experience for the students, and even for me. I think they will be talking about it for a long time.”

For more information on study away opportunities at Augustana, visit

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