An ambition that started at the age of 19 which led her to obtaining a doctoral degree in leadership studies and eventually becoming a deputy head of human resources management at the United Nations is what makes Gonzaga alumna Rosemary Muriungi the real life embodiment of GU’s Cura Personalis mission.
Muriungi brings a global perspective that naturally brings positive influence to the lives of people within the GU and Spokane community, the United States and other countries across the globe.
She has used her education in leadership studies and business administration to be an advocate for human rights and sustainable human development in Kenya and has been able to apply a seasoned international lens to the work that she now does at GU as a leadership professor.
There is something simple behind everything Muriungi has been able to accomplish and that is a promise she made to herself when she was a 19-year-old girl who had just gotten out of secondary school.
“I promised myself that even if I wasn’t able to go to a university at that time in my life, I was going to make it eventually, and then once I started it seems that I didn’t stop,” Muriungi said.
Having to support her family as soon as she was out of secondary school never stopped Muriungi from fulfilling this promise to herself and accomplishing the goals she wanted to.
This motivation is what she hopes to instill in young people who tend to be held within the limits of the societies and cultures around them.
Muriungi knows the value of hard work and education in African countries but wants to be a support to younger people, specifically women, who do not always have simple and easy access to the resources they need to succeed.
“In Kenya, it is not like here where you get to choose whichever university you want to go to, and what happens is students with the lower grades like C’s and D’s never get the opportunity to go to University,” Muriungi said.
There are many types of roadblocks in the Kenyan education system that inhibit students from rising to their full potential as members of their communities.
Her passion for teaching, advocating and providing opportunities and resources for other young children was something that Muriungi came across by accident.
“It was the best starting point for me because during that time I was a teacher, there was a specific point in one of the courses that I used to teach when I knew this is what I wanted to do,” Muriungi said.
While teaching a business management course Muriungi saw a girl who was trying really hard, and doing all the work but not getting the results that she’d been hoping for.
Not setting her to the standards of her highflying peers, Muriungi focused on helping her student achieve goals that were going to allow her to compete with herself rather than her classmates.
This student didn’t just complete the course but was able to pass the national exam in Kenya as well as the Pitman Exam in England.
After years of teaching in Kenya and the United States, Muriungi has seen a need in these students and uses that as a driving force for her commitment to starting a college in Kenya.
“The goal is to provide an opportunity to that category of students to get something even if it’s just a short three month course,” Muriungi said. “At the end, students will be able to come up with something that they will actually be able to employ themselves with once they’re done.”
Muriungi is highly regarded by her colleagues such as Kristine Hoover, the director of the School of Leadership Studies, for her willingness to take risks that advance her career and global impact.
“Her understanding of how education changes the world through different cultural and disciplinary situations is really amazing,” Hoover said.
Hoover first met Muriungi as a student in the doctoral leadership studies program, which she graduated from in 2020. Muriungi assisted Hoover with course designs for that same program.
Muriungi’s professional background in human resources impressed Hoover from the get go and from that point forward, their professional relationship grew into a humble friendship.
“There’s one quote that always reminds me of Rosemary and it’s something like this: Swim like a duck. Swim above the water with a grace, while underneath the water you’re taking care of so many demands,” Hoover said.
Muriungi’s background as not just a student but as a mother, a citizen from a foreign country and so many other commitments impress her peers as she goes through the hoops so effortlessly.
“Until you know her story you really don’t understand how much she is doing and how well she is able to do it,” Hoover said.
Muriungi touches the lives of all those that she meets, whether it be her co-workers, students or family.
“The most gratifying part of being a teacher is knowing that I can make such a big difference in a young person’s life by engaging them at their level and trying to break down these topics in a way that makes sense to them,” Muriungi said. “Really, just seeing them grow. Knowing that I’m a contribution to that growth and helping them find their own space in life is very special.”