Nkiruka Menankiti: ‘I have the motivation to be the best that I can be’
Edited by Caroline Osterman
The Berkeley Master of Engineering is a rewarding and challenging one-year program that pushes engineers to innovate and grow both in leadership and technical depth. In May 2019, the program saw 330 students graduate, among them being Nkiruka Menankiti, MEng ’19 (Nuclear Engineering). In addition to completing a full-time master’s degree this past year, Nkiruka has also been raising her two daughters, aged 1 and 2, with her husband Nnaemeka. Her next steps include gaining professional experience in nuclear engineering before attending grad school for a PhD in order to pursue a career in medical physics.
We spoke with Nkiruka about her experience pursuing an MEng degree in Nuclear Engineering while raising two young children, and what has motivated her along the way.
What made you choose the MEng program?
I want to pursue a career in medical physics, and here at UC Berkeley the Nuclear
Engineering is the closet I can get to it. The MEng provided an interesting blend of technical and leadership classes, and the duration of the program makes it appealing.
I also have to mention that my husband, Nnaemeka Nnamani (Ph.D. ’19, NE), is also in the department of Nuclear Engineering. We both graduated at the same time! It was beautiful experience. It was indeed a rough year with both of us being in school at the same time. Grad school at Berkeley is tough already, and with two little ones it is tougher — and that’s putting it lightly, with trying to keep up with everyone’s doctor’s appointments, events at school and daycare, shopping, cooking, cleaning, sleepless nights… and a whole lot more. There was a time in the second semester when my kids were sick for a long time — it was indeed tough. So, to finish, for both of us, is really amazing.
Grad school at Berkeley is tough already, and with two little ones it is tougher — and that’s putting it lightly. So, to finish, for both of us, is really amazing.
Read Nkiruka’s husband Nnaemeka’s story in the Voices of Berkeley Engineering campaign.
What was a typical day like for you during the program?
When I started the MEng program, my first daughter was 22 months, and my second daughter was seven weeks old. A typical day for me goes as follows:
I wake up between 7 and 7:30 a.m. My mornings involve bathing and dressing my kids for daycare, and feeding them breakfast.
Afterwards, I get myself ready and take my kids to their daycare. Then I head to campus. In between classes, I go to the lactation room to pump and try to get in some study time while doing so. I normally leave campus between 3:45 and 4 p.m. to pick up my kids.
After I get home, I spend time with my kids, make dinner, bathe them, and get them ready for bed. (I always joke that when my kids are home, I am not a student until they sleep!)
After my kids are in bed sleeping, I catch up on my emails, study and work on my homework, then I go to sleep — most days at 2 a.m. One of the wonderful things about infants is that they don’t sleep all through the night — so, at night, my second daughter wakes up to nurse, once or multiple times.
What motivated you to pursue such a challenging degree? What got you up in the morning?
I have always wanted a career for myself. Sometimes life takes you on a curvy path — but when we keep focus, we will arrive. I still have that focus. It may take longer now being a wife and mom, but I still have the motivation to be the best that I can be, for myself and for the people around me. Apart from my own self-actualization, the desire to be a support for my husband and my children also motivates me.
Other things add on to motivate me along the way. One is to be a source of encouragement to other moms. Many a mom sacrifice their careers and dreams to have time for their family. Being a mom takes giving and sacrifice. I want to encourage other moms to ‘try’ their dreams. It may be a rough ride, but there’s no harm in trying.
I want to encourage other moms to ‘try’ their dreams. It may be a rough ride, but there’s no harm in trying.
Do you have any advice for current MEng students?
The MEng is really an intensive program. I have heard other MEng students talk about being overwhelmed with the fast pace of the program. My advice for students is to be mentally prepared to take it on; try as much as you can to get up to speed early in the program, and go with the flow. Reach out when you find yourself struggling, and most important of all, take care of yourself.