Dr. Immanuel Gitamo’s Journey From Trans Nzoia To Becoming First Man In US Military To Attain Ph.D. In Astrophysics

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By Mukurima Muriuki

According to the US Census Bureau, only 1.2 percent of the US population has a Ph.D. which is slightly less than the entire 2 percent of the world’s population of  Ph.Ds. Given those statistics, it seems miraculous that a Kenyan, Dr.  Immanuel Gitamo, would earn his place with the 2 percent – especially, since his parents struggled financially and couldn’t afford to send him to school in Nairobi. Not only did he eventually graduate from secondary school, he also went on to receive a BS, an MS, and a PhD at the California Institute of Technology (CIT) and to join the US military. He believes his life truly has been filled with miracles, and that through prayer and hard work, anyone from anywhere in the world can achieve their dreams. At this time, he is the only soldier in the US military to receive a PhD in Astrophysics.

Dr. Gitamo was born and raised in Trans Nzoia, Kitale. He didn’t own a pair of shoes until he was fourteen years old. Graciously, the teachers at the local school were charitable and allowed him to attend classes for free. He saw this as miraculous, and in order to show his appreciation, he volunteered to help with chores at the school. Because of his faith in God and hard work, he has achieved what many people have only dreamed of achieving.

When he reflects on Kenya, he has fond memories and believes it is the most beautiful country in the world. After living abroad, he has grown to appreciate the simplistic yet physically demanding way of life on a Kenyan maize plantation. As many other Kenyans in diaspora have professed, he treasures the closeness of his family, the cuisine, and the friendships that he fostered while living there. He spoke of Kenya having a “sweetness.”

Because of his close relationship with his brother, Dr. Gitamo wasn’t satisfied living in Kenya while his brother resided in America. Therefore, after finishing his fourth form, he received a green card from the lottery and was able to travel to the US and complete his schooling. He completed his Bachelor of Science in aeronautics and astronautics engineering and his Master of Science in nuclear physics at the California Institute of Technology, one of the top five universities in the world. CIT admits less than 2 percent of those who apply. 

To explain what his degrees entail, Dr. Gitamo defined aerospace science as having two engineering disciplines. The first one, aeronautics, focuses on the aircrafts that stay within the earth’s atmosphere. The second, astronautical studies, focuses on anything that operates outside of our earth’s atmosphere. Therefore, his degree covers research, design, science and the technology related to aircraft construction and testing. Immanuel believes that people who work hard to achieve their goals, will have a  prosperous life. “I went through the normal application process. Achieving a Ph.D. is not an easy task. It requires discipline and consistency. After much prayer, I was given the green light, and here I am with a Ph.D. in Astrophysics,” he said.  

As Gitamo described Astrophysics, he explained that it is a branch of space science that applies physics and chemistry laws to explain the birth, life, and death of stars, planets, galaxies, nebulae and other objects in the universe. “As Astrophysicists, we seek to understand the universe and our place in it while creating physical theories of small to medium-size structures in the universe. The love of space is what inspired me,” he told African Warrior Magazine. 

It is reasonable to believe that if a person were successful in high school, then he would be successful in college; however, that was not the case for Immanuel. “I can say that I wasn’t that good or that terrible. I could add one plus one. I can attest to the fact that it doesn’t matter if you are good at religion, history, agriculture or physics in high school. I have lived long enough to know that with whatever inspires you, you will have the opportunity to excel through God’s grace. You can do it!” Although he believes anyone can achieve his or her dreams, he also knows that one cannot achieve them if one is a slacker. He emphasized that nobody should be lazy, but they should put forth their best effort into whatever they choose to do.

Dr. Gitamo chose to join the US Air Force reserves so he could receive military benefits which would pay for his schooling, obtain a VA home loan, and garner the experience he would need in order to write his dissertation on electric propellants. He wanted hands-on experience since all he had was theory. He found that only in the US Army can one obtain knowledge of solid propellant use, therefore, he signed up. His only challenge in joining the US military was that he had been given a TB vaccine in Africa, and when he was tested in the US, it showed up as positive. Apart from the vaccine issue, joining the US military was a smooth process for him. His first duty station was in the Republic of Korea as a member of Echo Battery, 6-52 Air and Missile Defense Battalion. His next assignment was at Joint Base Lewis-McChord as a member of 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team’s Air Defense and Air Management Cell, where he currently works. The ADAM Cell manages air space while providing air defense tactics and capabilities to the brigade.

Dr. Gitamo’s impression of the US military was that it is well equipped, disciplined, strong, and ready to respond to any threats against the US or its allies. After his career in the military, he hopes to join one of the following aerospace companies: The Aerospace Corporation, Jacobs, The Worldspace, SpaceX, NASA, or Radian Aerospace. 

Dr. Gitamo revealed that his biggest role model in life is his family. “This is because good role models have a powerful influence on people and their direction in life. There are people that you respect, admire, and find yourself wondering how they would handle a particular situation whenever you have a question about something now and again. And my family has been that. Also, there are several different, good role models in my life, because there are different areas for which I’m passionate. I look up to certain people within each area. For example: I look to Neil de Grass Tyson in relation to space,” he explained.

Dr. Gitamo hopes his legacy will influence the youth in his life to strive for their goals by having determination, being hard workers, and remembering to put God first. One of his desires for the Kenyan people is for them to appreciate the amount of experience he has accumulated over the years such as: the supervision of appropriate project resources and actively managing and addressing the resolution of conflicts within the project team; management experience with the ability to identify requirements, allocate resources, and facilitate delivery within the timeline, scope, and budget parameters, project planning, tracking; controlling and reporting the track progress against baseline through controlled and documented change management; designing and developing strategic development strategies and plans while investigating existing products; and comparing those products with the products of competitors while fostering an environment of accountability and quality improvement.

‘Seize the high ground’ is Dr. Gitamo’s favorite saying, and his favorite quote is:

“If a man chooses a certain Way and seems to have no particular talent for this Way, he can still become a master if he so chooses. By keeping at a particular form of study a man can attain perfection either in this life or the next (if a next life is believed in).” – Miyamoto Musashi

Like many Kenyans, Dr. Gitamo is a dreamer of big dreams who put forth the effort it takes to achieve those dreams. To date, he has attained many of them. Some would say he has reached for the stars, and in his case, he has literally done just that!

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