The University of Iowa

International student spotlight: Frankline Matanji​​​​​​​

June 8th, 2020
Frankline Matanji in Nairobi, Kenya

Frankline Matanji in Nairobi, Kenya

Reflecting on his academic journey, University of Iowa graduate student Frankline Matanji said, “Sometimes I just sit down and think, ‘I don’t know what happened—I can’t explain this.’” You see, Frankline wasn’t sure he would be able to complete high school, let alone a doctoral program.

“I grew up in rural Kenya on a small farm with my grandparents. While we sold some of the food we grew at nearby markets, most of it was used for our own subsistence. We simply did not have enough money to cover my schooling. My older brother wasn’t able to attend high school, so I assumed that I wouldn’t either,” said Frankline. But over time, he persisted in his dream of continuing his education and received critical support along the way.

A Ph.D. student in journalism and mass communications, Frankline developed an interest in studying media at an early age. His grandparents had a radio, so he spent a lot of his free time listening to news, lifestyle, and music programs and was captured by the voices of the radio presenters. “Growing up, I was quiet and shy. I liked that the people I heard talking on the radio were fun and made people laugh. I admired their humor, intelligence, and knowledge and knew that while it would challenge me, I wanted to do their job someday.”

While that particular career goal has evolved over time, his interest in studying media and communications has remained constant, as well as his determination to continue his education.

The first of many challenges came with the transition from primary to high school. “Most of the time, I was at home because I didn’t have money to pay for school. I would take care of the cattle, chickens, and help plant cassava, arrowroots, kale, and sweet potatoes,” said Frankline. Even so, he performed well on exams and was able to progress from grade to grade. “It was just in the last year that my uncle was able to step in to help me finish my schooling,” said Frankline. That financial support allowed him to attend school daily and ultimately graduate.

Continued support from Frankline’s uncle and a scholarship from a Canadian organization in Kenya allowed Frankline to study communication and media at Kisii University in Kenya. After earning his bachelor’s degree, Frankline stayed at Kisii University for a two-year research assistant position—an experience that helped him discover a passion for research and sparked a dream of attending graduate school in the United States.

Frankline Matanji at Kisii University in Kenya

Frankline at Kisii University

With encouragement and support from visiting scholars at Kisii University (Dr. Kefa Otiso from Bowling Green State University and Dr. Christine Mathenge from Austin Peay State University), Frankline received GRE study books and the opportunity to sit for the GRE exam. After gaining admission to a master’s degree program at Bowling Green State University to study media and communication, Frankline’s dream became a reality with the help of Kisii University who contributed money to help pay for fees and his airline ticket. A graduate assistantship at Bowling Green provided additional support.

Frankline at his commencement ceremony at Bowling Green State University

Frankline at his commencement ceremony at Bowling Green State University

Frankline became familiar with the University of Iowa doctoral program in journalism and mass communications from his mentor at Bowling Green, Professor Srinivas Melkote, who happens to be an Iowa alum. While he has just completed his second semester of the Ph.D. program, he has already made strong connections within his academic department and also in the International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS) office. “Since I don’t have family here, they feel like my family away from home,” commented Frankline. “They have been very supportive.”

Frankline recently received a Stanley Graduate Award for International Research, which would have taken him to Kenya this summer to study how a microfinance organization is incorporating digital media into their services to improve the livelihoods of their members. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic thwarted those travel plans, but he hopes to complete the research project in the future.

In the future, Frankline hopes to work as a professor at a research institution or work for a non-profit organization. “My passion is in serving people who are economically challenged—especially those in rural areas who cannot even afford to make ends meet.” He went on to say, “Kenya is a collectivist society. People help one another even outside of their nuclear families. I consider myself lucky to have gotten support from so many people to help me continue my schooling. I want to give back to others.”

  • Learn more about the support Frankline Matanji received to continue his education
  • Learn more about Frankline Matanji’s desire to pursue his education
  • Learn how Frankline Matanji spends his free time in Iowa City
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