Africa in Our Lives: Cecilia Kyalo

Cecilia Kyalo is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. She holds a master’s degree in Applied Linguistics from the University of Mississippi and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nairobi (Kenya).   

What brought you to Madison? How did Fulbright influence your academic trajectory?  

I was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Florida’s Center for African Studies. I had great opportunities to collaborate with faculty and students researching Africa. I became interested in UW-Madison while pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Mississippi. I wanted to pursue a doctorate in curriculum and instruction, and my professors advised me to consider UW-Madison.  

Tell us about your research. 

My research interest is in health education. My dissertation project examines how HIV/AIDS education and research “makes up” people—shapes categories, such as girl child, adolescents, and youth. I mainly focus on the “girl child” category to explore how the notion is constituted as an exceptional category of HIV/AIDS intervention in contemporary Kenya. I analyze practices that made the girl child a possible subject and object of knowledge in HIV/AIDS education. While I acknowledge that the HIV/AIDS pandemic affects more women and girls in Africa than men, I suggest that conceptualizing the girl child as an exceptional category of intervention ignores the historicity of the concept and power relations that undermine HIV/AIDS education as an intervention strategy.  

What shaped your interest in HIV/AIDS curriculum? 

I love how HIV/AIDS curriculum brings together education, public health, science and technology studies. I am fascinated by a subject that breaks disciplinary boundaries to find workable solutions to a social crisis.   

How have you facilitated this research? Has COVID required you to adapt your plans? 

I conducted my archival research in Kenya, which was helpful because it is my home country. I had great support from staff at the Kenya National Archives and the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD). I received funding from the Holtz Center for Science and Technology Studies, and this academic year I am on Milton Pella Science Education Fellowship. I am grateful to my advisors, Professor Kathryn Kirchgasler and Professor Thomas Popkewitz, for connecting me to different learning resources.  

Tell us about your teaching experience at UW and how your research in education shapes your approach to pedagogy.  

I have been a teacher for a decade. I started my career as a high school teacher in Nairobi, and I have since taught at the University of Florida, the University of Mississippi, and UW-Madison. I have taught different courses ranging from language, African Storyteller, and Global Hip Hop and Social Justice. During Covid-19, I had an opportunity to supervise student teachers undertaking practicum in world language education. As a result, I have learned to care for my students and privilege their individual learning needs.  

 Outside of your extensive teaching experience and research, what are your non-academic hobbies? 

 Although my dissertation takes most of my time, I devote some time to reading novels. I have collaborated with my partner to co-host #HelloCloseListening, a forthcoming podcast focusing on literature and healing. The podcast brings together my interest in health education and my partner’s research on sound and literature.  

How does African Studies influence your field of Curriculum and Instruction?  

My research is on Africa, and I grapple with an archive produced by multiple actors with different interests. Through my Ph.D. minor in African Cultural Studies, I have significantly benefited from topical courses on Africa, especially the interdisciplinary seminar on Africa, which introduced me to debates on knowledge production in Africa.  

Produced by Carly Lucas