Cultural Diversity the Key to Unlocking Dream Career, Says Kenyan Student

Man stands by a plane
Embry-Riddle student MicHalifax “Mike” Wanyeki stands beside a Cessna aircraft at the Prescott Campus Flight Line. (Photo: Embry-Riddle / Connor McShane)

MicHalifax “Mike” Wanyeki’s childhood in Nairobi, Kenya, was spent playing with clay model airplanes while watching aircraft soar high above him in the sky. He dreamed of becoming a pilot but had no clue where to start — until an instructor visited his hometown in 2016 and offered him a discovery flight.

“You can imagine how excited I was not only to start flying but also to see an airplane up close for the first time,” said Wanyeki. “The first time taking off, I was so scared, but my instructor calmed me down. It was a sunrise flight: the most beautiful view I had ever seen. I immediately fell in love with it.”

Six years later, Wanyeki became an Aeronautical Science major at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. A current junior, set to graduate in 2025, his future as a pilot is now officially cleared for takeoff, and he credits much of his success thus far to his involvement in the campus’s Center for International Programs and Services (CIPS), which will host its annual International Festival — a free event scheduled for March 30 and open to all in the Prescott, Arizona, area.

An opportunity for students like Wanyeki to share their culture with the greater community, the festival will offer visitors authentic international cuisine and entertainment, as well as opportunities to meet members of Embry-Riddle’s diverse student population.

“Our focus is to bring the world to Prescott,” said Pauline Filemoni, director of the Center for International Programs and Services (CIPS). “The festival is our way of giving back to the community. We’ve been welcomed by the people of Prescott, so this festival is our chance to welcome them to campus.”

Embracing a Global Community

To realize his dream of attending Embry-Riddle as an international student, Wanyeki worked hard to meet admission requirements, including re-taking SAT exams, scheduling VISA interviews, applying for scholarships and persisting through pandemic-related delays.

“Being an international student is one of the hardest things I ever encountered,” said Wanyeki. “I have had plenty of people who have really helped me.”

A student at Embry-Riddle’s Prescott Campus, he credits College of Aviation faculty for their support, as well as CIPS for its continued assistance in easing his transition, both into the country and college life.

“The purpose of CIPS is not just to serve our international students on campus but to build a welcoming community so our students have a sense of belonging,” said Pauline Filemoni, CIPS director, who oversees the 9% of students on campus who come outside the United States. “I really believe that being able to help students feel safe and welcomed goes a long way in helping them through their studies.”

The Prescott Campus is home to international students from over 54 countries. Working closely with student-run clubs and organizations, such as the International Student Association, CIPS is a resource available to all international students providing guidance related to their nonimmigrant and educational pursuits.

“I have major aspirations,” said Wanyeki. “That is the reason why I flew halfway across the world — to achieve greatness. I want to stay in aviation, but also go into business.”

Wanyeki’s advice to international students is to remain open to new experiences: “Embrace another country’s culture, but do not forget your own. That is what makes you unique.”

As graduation approaches, Wanyeki reminds himself of what he was told on his first flying lesson, back in Kenya: calm down, enjoy the ride and take in the views along the way.

“Enjoy the journey, even if you need to pause for a while,” Wanyeki said. “If you focus too much on the destination, you will forget to enjoy the journey.”

Posted In: Aviation