Pitt Graduate Student Named National Geographic Emerging Explorer

Issue Date: 
June 7, 2010
Kakenya NtaiyaKakenya Ntaiya

University of Pittsburgh doctoral student Kakenya Ntaiya has been named a 2010 National Geographic Emerging Explorer for her dedication to bettering the lives of young girls in her small Maasai village of Enoosaen, Kenya. Ntaiya is among 14 “visionary young trailblazers” to be chosen for the honor.

National Geographic’s Emerging Explorers Program recognizes and supports “uniquely gifted and inspiring adventurers, scientists, photographers, and storytellers making a significant contribution to world knowledge through exploration while still early in their careers.” Each Emerging Explorer receives a $10,000 award to assist with research and to aid further exploration.

Ntaiya, an educator and activist, founded the Kakenya Center for Excellence, the first and only school for girls in her home region. She is the first girl from her village to pursue an education, earning a scholarship to pursue an undergraduate degree at Randolph-Macon Women’s College in Virginia. She is working on her dissertation in The Pitt School of Education’s PhD program in social and comparative analysis in education and expects to finish this year.

Ntaiya believes that education will empower and motivate young girls to become agents of change in their communities. She spent her time in the United States promoting awareness of the issues affecting Kenyan girls. She was the first youth advisor to the United Nations Population Fund and traveled around the world to speak on the importance of educating girls, particularly as a means to fight the practices of female genital mutilation and child marriage.

Ntaiya, who had been promised in marriage at the age of 5, negotiated with her father and agreed to be circumcised if he would allow her to finish high school. She then convinced the village elders to permit her to leave her village in southern Kenya to attend college in the United States. The entire village collected money to pay for her journey. Her promise was that she would use her education to benefit Enoosaen.

Since 2006, Ntaiya has been working to build the Kakenya Center. Now in its second year, her academy has 60 girls and four teachers, with a fifth to be hired soon. The school plans to accept 30 new girls each year.

PNY Technologies is a presenting sponsor of the Emerging Explorers Program and a National Geographic Mission Partner for Exploration & Adventure. Emerging Explorers is made possible in part by the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation, which has supported the program since its inception in 2004.