Dr Maureen Akolo from SONAM Kenya
Dr Maureen Akolo has been on a winning path since her first day at the Aga Khan University (AKU). Within her first months as a faculty at the School of Nursing and Midwifery (SONAM), Nairobi campus, she applied for the Dean's Fund and got awarded.
Launched in the year 2020, the Dean's Fund is an intramural grant that seeks to provide seed funding for research projects, provide a platform for cross-campus research collaborations and provide an avenue for research mentorship between Senior and Junior Faculty. The Dean's Fund also prepares faculty for extramural grant applications through building track records of research.
In all, there is an appetite for intramural grants across SONAM East Africa entities and it is anticipated that such intramural funding will transform the research landscape, enable inter-campus research collaboration, and strengthen research mentorship between Faculties across the East African region.
She commends SONAM's various teaching courses for improving both her teaching skills and course development, singling out the Re-Thinking Teaching course, which promotes networking within Aga Khan covered countries, and the Electives course.
Before a SONAM student graduates, they have to undertake the Electives course where they identify a healthcare gap in their place of work, carry out research and devise a plan to resolve this gap. In the end, they present their findings and impact in the form of “poster presentations" to faculty, staff, other students and some of their clinical supervisors. Many SONAM students attribute their promotion at their workplaces to this.
“The Electives course assists students in identifying a gap at their work stations, critically think of possible solutions and implement with the help of a preceptor and faculty member. This has seen so many quality improvements processes adopted in many different hospitals initiated by SONAM students."
An advocate of research, Dr Akolo challenges students to go for research opportunities and collaborate with other research entities.
“Research enables a student to identify health gaps in the community including the clinical settings of a hospital, learn best methodologies to apply to the formulated hypothesis to come up with evidence-based scientific proven information that may be used to solve community health problems and improve the quality of life."
Currently, she is engaged in various research projects, including the Dean's Fund and the URC. The project seeks to increase access to Sexual Reproductive Health Services (SRH)/HIV services among adolescent girls and young women in Nairobi.
“We hope to achieve this through respondent Driven Sampling method and anticipate that with increased access to sexual reproductive health services then we will have a reduction of HIV incidence and prevalence among this group with better SRH outcomes"
With the pandemic changing the academic landscape, Dr Akolo hopes for the resumption of the normal annual calendar. Currently, the school has adopted a blended learning approach where students learn both on-campus and virtually.
“COVID-19 showed us that virtual learning is possible irrespective of several hurdles. We started engaging students through online teaching platforms such as MOODLE, ZOOM and Microsoft teams and these platforms enabled us to catch up with the lost time at the onset of the pandemic."
“Learning can take place even in remote areas during different time zones as long as technology is accessible and stable. This is from my experience whereby we had students joining online classes all the way from Mandera consistently without fail."
Writing winning grants and mentoring young scientists remains key for Dr Akolo as she continues to impart knowledge to the next generation of nurses.