New professor left Kenya to teach physics in America for 30+ years

Caroline Bryant | The Southern Newspaper Photo courtesy of Dylan Olive | Wafula inside the physics lab he teaches at on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Dylan Olive
The Southern Editor

Florida Southern’s new adjunct physics professor was born and raised in Kenya, having taught students across various levels for over 30 years. 

Dr. Alfred Wafula and his family moved to the United States in 2004 and lived in Wichita, Kan., because they had relatives and friends there. The following year, Wafula got accepted into the University of South Florida’s master’s degree program in physics, which brought him and his family to Florida. 

“I came over here because after my second degree [in Kenya], there was pressure for me to do my doctorate and we didn’t have the facilities there for me to do that, so my idea was to come here,  do my doctorate, and then go back,” Wafula said.

Nearly 20 years later, Wafula is still in the United States. After having children in school, Wafula didn’t want to move back to Kenya and have them switch schools mid-school year, especially because of the changes that would follow.

“The system here is really different than the Kenyan system,” Wafula said. “The system there in Kenya is based on British Curriculum: eight years for primary education, four for ordinary level (secondary), two years for advanced level (high school) and three years for university.”

Physics has been Wafula’s passion since he first learned it in school. In Kenya’s education system, there are three main compulsory subjects in advanced-level schooling (high school): English, mathematics and Kiswahili – a language commonly spoken in Kenya. When Wafula was placed in physics, it felt like the perfect match.

“I love it. Right from high school, physics stood out,” Wafula said. “I was only good in math, and physics goes hand in hand in with mathematics. Physics is very precise, and you can explain things nicely with an equation. I like physics because it is a common sense kind of subject. What you see, you apply that everywhere.”

Before teaching at FSC, Wafula taught at the middle and high school levels and at other colleges and universities. USF, Florida Polytechnic University and Keiser University are other universities where Wafula has taught. As an adjunct professor, he currently teaches physics classes at multiple institutions.

Wafula started teaching at FSC this past summer, making this fall his second semester teaching here. Teaching general physics classes and labs on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Wafula is happy to be making the two-hour commute to work and back twice a week. 

“I have always enjoyed teaching,” Wafula said. “I’ve become a better teacher than before. When I went to school, they would teach and give you the information and expect you to land the equations themselves. Here, I’m a better teacher because I want to get to know the interests of my students, and I want to see how they can benefit and apply that.”

Wafula has had a positive experience thus far teaching at Florida Southern. He was surprised to see that there are so many physics students here. One of his classes has nearly 40 students, whereas in one of his classes at Keiser University, there are only three students in the class. 

Getting to know the students here has been something Wafula enjoys. After being at other schools where he has barely had any physics students, he likes to learn about their different interests and goals to help them get the most out of his courses. He described his FSC students as “smart and respectful,” and says they are engaging with the material to understand the concepts.

“I want to know what they know, what they don’t know, and build on that and make it interesting,” Wafula said.

Wafula is most proud of the students he has taught that have gone on to become successful engineers, doctors and teachers. After his extensive career in teaching, Wafula is in the final years of his teaching career and plans to retire in the next 5 – 10 years.


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