Supply chain student Gladwell Ndungu possess uncommon drive in pursuit of success
Gladwell Ndungu grew up in Kenya in the village Gitaru, not far from the capital city of Nairobi. There weren’t many opportunities, and she witnessed severe poverty in nearby communities.
She came to the United States in 2010 to create a better life for herself after first completing a bachelor’s degree in business information technology in Kenya.
Since first settling in Kankakee, Illinois, where she didn’t know anyone and had no family support, and eventually relocating to St. Louis, Ndungu has earned an associate degree in accounting at St. Louis Community College–Meramec and a BSBA in supply chain management at the University of Missouri–St. Louis in 2019. That same year, she became part of the first cohort pursuing a master’s degree in supply chain analytics at UMSL. Ndungu, who is also working full-time as a sourcing analyst at Ameren, is expected to complete her master’s degree in May.
“What kept me going is I come from a small town, and I know what poverty is,” Ndungu said. “I was fortunate that even though we didn’t have much we had enough. We had food on the table every night. We had the basic needs. But I saw poverty in the neighborhoods where people were going hungry and just didn’t make ends meet. I knew I did not want that for myself.
“I knew the struggles my parents fought to get us through school. When I have a family, I think it will be a disservice to my parents if I give them anything short of what they did for us. That kept me motivated to want to be able to do better. I did not want to be in a place where I’m living on minimum wage. I did not want to be in a place where I was dependent on my family or my siblings to be able to make ends meet.”
Ndungu, already fluent in English, didn’t have to grapple with a language barrier to pursue her goals.
She also inherited ingenuity and drive from her grandmother, whom Ndungu was named after. She was a pillar in the community and the first person in her village to have electricity and a borehole for water supply. She also purchased a posho mill for grain so the community could produce food to eat and sell. That purchase created jobs for those in the village.
Ndungu’s first role in the United States was at a small company in O’Fallon, Missouri, doing accounting in the quality assurance department after completing her associate degree. During that time, Ndungu discovered she liked working in the field of supply chain.
“It’s unlike accounting,” Ndungu said. “It’s very different. Every day is a different task. I don’t like monotonous things. I want to do different things that challenge me on an everyday basis.”
As Ndungu pondered taking a different path, she began by changing jobs and started working at Boeing. After five years of doing distribution services, she decided to pursue the field of supply chain management.
Ndungu searched for schools where she could learn more about it and enrolled at UMSL in 2019. Several factors led to her decision.
“Well, it started with the price,” Ndungu said. “I looked around for colleges that will offer a pocket friendly education. And just from listening to my fellow co-workers who had gotten their degrees, they preferred to go to UMSL.”
Ndungu had a supportive experience at UMSL while getting a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with emphasis in supply chain management.
“The professors were very helpful when I enrolled,” Ndungu says. “I was not exactly sure of the direction I wanted to go. I met with my academic advisor, Justin. He helped me pick the right classes to make sure they were going to be helpful – making sure I’d be implementing those classes in my work. The same thing happened with all my professors, they were very interested in my learning and in my own growth.”
Growth is very important to Ndungu. And her ambition and ability became clear to others.
Last year, Ndungu left Boeing and moved to Ameren, where she now works as a sourcing analyst, creating strategic sourcing plans and negotiating purchases.
She secured this role with the help of Mitch Millstein, a professional practice professor in the Department of Supply Chain and Analytics, who had become her mentor after she had been referred to the supply chain board at UMSL by Assistant Teaching Professor Maureen F. Karig. Millstein circulated Ndungu’s resume, and after several rounds of interviews with different companies, she chose Ameren.
Ndungu balances her full-time job with a part-time position as a research assistant in UMSL’s Supply Chain Risk and Resilience Research Institute while also working toward her master’s in supply chain analytics.
Wanting more than what she grew up with and having the ability to create security for herself drives her to succeed, especially when she’s having a low moment.
She’s also committed to helping others getting ahead. Ndungu serves as the youth mentorship program coordinator of the youth empowerment program for Vitendo 4 Africa, a nonprofit organization that helps African immigrants settle in St. Louis. She focuses on helping immigrant youth navigate the American education system as well as equipping them with knowledge and skills that will help them succeed. The program currently has 43 mentees and 18 mentors.
The support from UMSL, particularly as an international student, coupled with Ndungu’s determination, is what has helped her continue to move forward and create opportunities for herself.
“It’s not a common thing that you find, especially for minority students where all the professors know you, just based on other professors talking to them about you,” she said. “I told one professor I wanted to be in the PhD program. Now I have professors asking me if I need a referral or recommendation letter. I don’t think it’s a common thing. I have not heard of it from my friends. I feel I’m very lucky and privileged to be here.”
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