The untold story of a journalist: Dr. Ndirangu “David” Wachanga has traveled far as a student, professor

Dr. David Wachanga uses his own life experiences to give his students a better understanding of the ethics of journalism. Wachanga has taken a unique route to his current post at UW-Whitewater. By Andrew Smith

Assistant professor Dr. Ndirangu “David” Wachanga knows how to tell a good story.

“I consider myself a storyteller,” Wachanga said.

Wachanga not only tells stories through writing and documentary filmmaking, but he also teaches his students how to become articulate storytellers as well. Yet one story, which might be the most interesting of them all, is what Wachanga cannot tell. The story he is reluctant to tell, due to his humble nature, is his own story.

His education

A native of Kenya, Wachanga began his education at Egerton University in Kenya, earning his Bachelor of Arts in Literature in English and Kiswahili language and linguistics. He then joined Universidade Eduardo Mondlane in Maputo, Mozambique in 2001 for a fast-track training in journalism. This program was a linkage involving three universities: Egerton University of Kenya, Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, and University of North Texas (UNT).

After two sessions at Eduardo Mondlane, Wachanga was awarded a $10,000 Mayborn scholarship to complete his master’s in journalism at the Mayborn Graduate School of Journalism at UNT.  It is at this institution where he was to complete his interdisciplinary PhD in information science in 2007.

When Wachanga first stepped in the  UNT library in 2003, he was overwhelmed by the enormity of resources.

“When he first got here, he went into the corner of the library, sat down, overwhelmed with emotions,” said Dr. Mitch Land, dean of the Mayborn School of Journalism at UNT.

Land, who was the fast-track journalism program instructor and one of Wachanga’s mentors while earning both his master’s and doctorate degrees, noted how “enamored and overwhelmed he was by the resources” of the library, that he practically lived there his entire time at UNT.

“We all knew when we needed Wachanga we would have to go to the library, because that’s where he lived,” Land said. “If the library was open and he didn’t have a class, that’s where he lived.”

While the libraries in Africa were not only smaller than those in the United States, they were inadequate for Wachanga’s hunger for knowledge.

By the end of his career at UNT, Wachanga was one of the highest funded students through academic scholarships.

“I am very, very grateful,” Wachanga said. “I received more than $50,000 in scholarship money during my postgraduate tenure at UNT. I was a child with two homes: Journalism department and the College of information.”

At the journalism department, Land quickly realized Wachanga’s work ethic. It was in the process of earning his master’s degree when Land realized that Wachanga had read more than 80 books – almost every assigned reading for the course – despite being required to read only seven books.

“I noticed that Wachanga would have a comment about every book during discussion and I would think, ‘How could he know about all these books?’” Land said.

Land proceeded to ask Wachanga, ‘David, I don’t understand why you seem to know something about every book.’ Wachanga replied, ‘Because I’ve read them.’

Upon learning this, Land decided that it wouldn’t be right to continue teaching the class himself. So he let Wachanga, who had already completed the 18 hours of required student teaching, to take the reigns.

“I just realized that if I really cared about my students, I would give them the absolute best person as a professor, and that person was not me because I had not read all of the books,” Land said. “So I just turned the class over to him and said ‘David, it would be unethical for me not to have you teach this class,’ and he did a far better job than I’ve ever done.”

Wachanga began teaching at UW-Whitewater in 2008 and now teaches Mass Media and Society, New Communication Technologies, New Gathering and Reporting and other communication courses.

“His real world experience in the field of journalism makes him an outstanding resource to students,” senior Andrew Zupkoff said. “Dr. Wachanga is my favorite professor at UW-Whitewater.”

Storytelling

Throughout his education, Wachanga has had a passion for the art of storytelling and the ethics, fairness, and pursuit of truth of journalism. He has dedicated much of his time researching on the impact of new media and technologies, as well as recording documentary films.

His first edited volume, “Cultural Identity and New communication technologies: Political, Ethnic and Ideological Implications” was published recently.  The book has already been adopted as a course at Princeton University.

Wachanga has also collaborated with Land on several projects and both have presented papers at international conferences. Wachanga has also contributed many articles to different journals and book chapter in edited volumes.

An African Legend

His publications record alone is impressive, but it his documentary film projects that Wachanga hopes will help “preserve African memory through conversations with African elders.” One of Wachanga’s major projects is a documentary film on the life, writings, debates, dialogues and conversations surrounding the life of Professor Ali Mazrui.

Mazrui, who Wachanga characterizes as a “global African,” is a public figure very well-known in Africa and the African diaspora.

Wachanga knew of Mazrui as a young child, but never imagined he would ever interview him, let alone meet him. Yet Wachanga did meet him at the annual  African Studies Association in Chicago, and has since interviewed him in New Orleans, Washington D.C., New York, San Francisco and in several cities in the United Kingdom.

“Mazrui is a Kenyan icon just as he is African legend,” Wachanga said. “He has articulated so much about African and has provided us with much material for debates and dialogues; conversations and contestations.”

Wachanga is also in the process of interviewing and documenting the life of another African novelist, Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

“My goal is to have a 90-minute documentary films for each of these African sages,” Wachanga said. “The final projects will be distributed via traditional media outlets as well as secure online sites.”

Wachanga appeared on BBC in London last summer to discuss the importance of these documentary films on Mazrui and wa Thiong’o.

Wachanga said it is very challenging to document the lives of these public figures because they are already great stories themselves.

“It is challenging for me to tell a story that is already a good story itself,” Wachanga said. “So what I am doing is trying to tell a better story. That is my pleasant challenge, and I hope to do a good job.”

Although many of the people Wachanga has and will interview in his lifetime have published books, given speeches and traveled the world to leave their mark, the role Wachanga plays as the storyteller might be equally as important.

Wachanga is the man behind the scenes; the man making sure the work, contributions and efforts of these key African thinkers and intellectuals are preserved.

Yet if Wachanga knows it or not, he himself, has a story that must be preserved as well.

Growing from an ambitious and intelligent student into a talented, hardworking teacher and journalist, Wachanga’s story has much to say about the impact he has just begun to leave on the world.

“He is one of the most successful, fascinating and wonderful human beings I have ever met,” Land said. “The fact is, we should sit at David’s feet. It’s a blessing you get to be around him.”

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