Madison College Teaching Fellow: Dr. Kevin Wamalwa

Can you share your educational journey and experience in African Studies and how it has prepared you for this teaching fellowship?

My journey in African Studies goes way back to my undergraduate days at the University of Nairobi, where I studied Linguistics and Swahili Studies. I was fascinated by linguistics, but I was also invested in literature as a Swahili poet and prose writer. When I joined the then Department of African Languages and Literature, my love for literature drew me to write my thesis about utopian Swahili literature and how it captures the aspirations of the imagination of Africa’s future. After my MA, I joined PhD programs in anthropology and African Cultural Studies, which I defended last fall. I research memory and/of conflict in Africa, focusing on how people remember, live with, and experience trauma in post-conflict settings and in ways that make us rethink how we conceptualize victimhood and villainy. Pursuing a joint Ph.D. was challenging but it was one of my best decisions. It allowed me to study Africa from a broader interdisciplinary perspective. I am equipped not just for a teaching fellowship at Madison College but for the academic career ahead of me as an African and Africanist anthropologist. I am able to bring my experience as a literary scholar, language expert, and ethnographer to understanding social and resource-based conflicts, social and environmental justice, peace, and memory.

What motivated you to apply for the Madison College Teaching Fellowship, and how does it align with your career goals?

Firstly, I had the needed experience to teach the new Introduction to Africa and Global Black Studies course at Madison College. I have taught many introductory courses on Africa at UW-Madison, including African literature, African Storyteller, and the African Survey Course. Other courses, including Introduction to Cultural Anthropology and Human Diversity, Human Geography, and Speech Composition, sharpened my teaching skills, gave me tools and vantage points for teaching about Africa, and positioned me as a well-informed educator who can draw on different perspectives. Secondly, I saw the Teaching Fellowship as an excellent opportunity to create a robust certificate course on Africa that would introduce students to Africa, challenge them to think critically about the continent’s historical and contemporary politics, economies, and sociocultural issues, and be an enjoyable experience for them.

Can you describe the process of developing the course syllabus and how you chose the course materials? How well have these choices been received by the students?

I envisioned the new African studies course as a survey course that could be modeled after and draw on the various classes I have taught at UW-Madison. Therefore, the choice of materials is based on the need to introduce students to different topics on Africa and make the learning process fun.

How has your experience been with teaching at Madison College so far? Were there any initial challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?

Often, new programs have their challenges. Unfortunately, the course did not kick off as intended due to low enrollment in the spring. Rather than being a setback, it has allowed us to strategize better and continue designing the curriculum that meets the students’ needs in the fall and beyond.

How has this teaching fellowship contributed to your professional development as an educator?

I spearhead curriculum development, including creating new teaching materials for the fall offering of the African and Global Black Studies course. Besides that, I am also supporting the study abroad program at Madison College for their trip to East Africa in the summer by creating language lessons and consulting with them on other related issues. I had not anticipated this, but it is an excellent opportunity to put my language-teaching expertise to use. I will organize a full-day workshop on language and Kenyan cultures for the study abroad team later this spring.

What are your aspirations for the future, both within and beyond the Madison College Teaching Fellowship?

There are many! I enjoy teaching, so I see myself establishing myself as an educator in an institution that would allow me to develop an effective teaching program, mentor students, and contribute to knowledge related to my research interests. I am a writer. Graduate school somehow slowed down my creative writing career, but I see myself publishing a few creative works, including poetry and an already completed Riwaya (Swahili novel) manuscript. Throughout my graduate school life, I have volunteered as a cultural orientation instructor and a trained medical interpreter in communities around Madison, especially in refugee resettlement programs. I plan to continue serving the community around Madison.

Do you have any advice for graduate students who are thinking of applying for a teaching fellowship?

Teaching Fellowships in the African Studies Program(ASP) are enriching. I encourage students to apply and take advantage of the available fellowships. ASP teaching fellowship in partnership with Madison College is the first of its kind. There have been other similar opportunities for professional development on the UW campus. I was the African Studies teaching fellow from the fall of 2021 to the summer of 2022 for the Africa 277 course. During that time, I worked as the lead TA with the professors who taught the course in the fall and spring while preparing a syllabus for the summer semester. Being a lecturer for Africa 277 gave me the autonomy to choose topics, select learning materials, and coordinate my teaching assistants team. These are invaluable skills that every graduate student should seek to develop for a future career in academia. Teaching at a community college would also give someone a new experience beyond teaching undergraduates.