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Alumna Named a 2010 National Geographic Emerging Explorer

Kakenya Ntaiya 04 is the founder and president of Kakenya Center for Excellence in her home village of Enoosen in southern Kenya

5/19/2010 2:12:10 PM

 

Kakenya Ntaiya '04
Photo: Sharon Farmer

LYNCHBURG–A 2004 alumna has been named to the 2010 class of National Geographic Emerging Explorers.

Kakenya Ntaiya ’04 is one of 14 visionary, young trailblazers from around the world – including an electrical engineer, a musician, a bioarchaeologist, a mobile technology innovator and a herpetologist – to receive the honor.

National Geographic’s Emerging Explorers Program recognizes and supports uniquely gifted and inspiring adventurers, scientists, photographers and storytellers making a significant contribution to world knowledge through exploration while still early in their careers. The Emerging Explorers each receive a $10,000 award to assist with research and to aid further exploration. PNY Technologies is a presenting sponsor of the Emerging Explorers Program and a National Geographic Mission Partner for Exploration & Adventure. The program is made possible in part by the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation, which has supported the program since its inception in 2004.

Ntaiya is the founder and president of Kakenya Center for Excellence in her home village of Enoosaen in southern Kenya. It is the first and only school for girls in the region. A passionate advocate for girls’ education, Ntaiya persuaded her father that she not follow traditional Maasai culture and marry at age 13. She became the first girl in her village to pursue an education in the United States. She graduated from the College in 2004 when it was Randolph-Macon Woman’s College with an international studies and political science degree. She is earning her doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh. Ntaiya believes that education will empower and motivate young girls to become agents of change in their community and country.

Other 2010 Emerging Explorers include environmental scientist Saleem H. Ali; mobile technology innovator Ken Banks; wildlife biologist Aparajita Datta; agroecologist Jerry Glover; bioarchaeologist Christine Lee; research scientist and engineer Albert Yu-Min Lin; paleontologist Bolortsetseg Minjin; electrical engineer Aydogan Ozcan; musician and activist Feliciano dos Santos; molecular biologist Beth Shapiro; wildlife researcher and conservationist Emma Stokes; herpetologist-toxinologist Zoltan Takacs; and marine biologist and conservationist Jose Urteaga.

The new Emerging Explorers are introduced in the June 2010 issue of National Geographic magazine. A Web feature at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/emerging includes comprehensive profiles of the explorers.

National Geographic Emerging Explorers may be selected from virtually any field, from the Society’s traditional arenas of anthropology, archaeology, photography, space exploration, earth sciences, mountaineering, and cartography to the worlds of technology, music, and filmmaking.

“National Geographic’s mission is to inspire people to care about the planet, and our Emerging Explorers are outstanding young leaders whose endeavors further this mission. We are pleased to support them as they set out on promising careers. They represent tomorrow’s Edmund Hillarys, Jacques Cousteaus and Dian Fosseys,” said Terry Garcia, National Geographic’s executive vice president for Mission Programs.

Pakistani-American environmental scientist Saleem Ali, professor of environmental planning and Asian studies at the University of Vermont, believes that only if vying factions communicate and collaborate can environmental conservation succeed. He facilitates that process as a professional mediator for companies, governments and indigenous communities; as an adviser to the United Nations on environmental conflicts and strategies; and as a professor, researcher and author. In 2007 he was chosen by Seed magazine as one of eight “Revolutionary Minds in the World” in recognition of his work on using environmental factors as a means of conflict resolution.

Mobile technology innovator Ken Banks, of Cambridge, England, devotes himself to the application of mobile technology for positive social and environmental change in the developing world. Although he has never monitored elections in Africa, run a rural healthcare network in India or brought crucial pricing information to farmers in El Salvador, some software he created and provides free to grassroots nonprofit organizations does all that and more. Frontline SMS is a text-messaging-based field communication application that is allowing groups in over 50 countries to send and receive information in remote areas without Internet access. Deploying the technology requires just a laptop computer, cell phone, and cable.

Aparajita Datta, a wildlife biologist with the Nature Conservation Foundation in Mysore, India, has spent the last 13 years working to study and conserve the tropical rainforests of Arunachal Pradesh in northeastern India, arguably the country’s richest biodiversity region. She explores the conservation challenges facing one of the world’s last vast tracts of wilderness and the complex issues confronting tribal Lisu people who call this region home. She initiated a community-based conservation program with the Lisu to reduce hunting and save wildlife by first improving the quality of life for local families.

Agroecologist Jerry Glover is a soil specialist and part of a research team developing perennial grain crops that could revolutionize agriculture and be key to meeting global food needs. Glover’s team at the Land Institute in Salina, Kan., partners with plant breeders and agricultural scientists around the world to develop prototypes of primarily wheat, rice, and maize that they hope will become viable perennial crops that can feed more people. This involves meticulous genetic detective work, breeding and cross-breeding seeds to select characteristics that will ultimately make a top crop.

Bioarchaeologist Christine Lee, of the Research Center for Chinese Frontier Archaeology, Jilin University, Changchun, combines physical anthropology and archaeology to study human remains, coaxing secrets from skeletons and ancient civilizations. She hopes her research can be a bridge between the United States, where she was raised, and China, where she works; she sees her discoveries as providing information and understanding between the two cultures. Exploring diversity is at the core of Lee’s archaeological research, and often her search begins with a tooth. Dental anthropology can reveal everything from population origin and history to migration and intermarriage.

University of California, San Diego, research scientist and engineer Albert Yu-Min Lin’s explorations are groundbreaking, as he never breaks ground. He uses non-invasive, computer-based technologies to gather, synthesize, and visualize data in previously unreachable places, without disturbing a blade of grass. Cutting-edge tools such as satellite imagery, ground-penetrating radar and remote sensors permit Lin to make archaeological discoveries while respecting traditional beliefs of indigenous people. He is currently using 3-D immersive technologies to search for the tomb of Genghis Khan.

Mongolian paleontologist Bolortsetseg Minjin has unearthed numerous dinosaur and other mammal fossils in the Gobi Desert, but the discoveries she covets most are new students who will keep Mongolian paleontology alive. She has made attracting other young Mongolians to her field a priority, and has established outreach programs through schools, museums and the media. She also established the Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs, which provides a research facility, expedition vehicles, equipment, and scholarships for Mongolian students.

Educator and activist Kakenya Ntaiya is the founder and president of Kakenya Center for Excellence in her home village of Enoosen in southern Kenya. It is the first and only school for girls in the region. A passionate advocate for girls’ education, Ntaiya persuaded her father that she not follow traditional Maasai culture and marry at age 13. She became the first girl in her village to pursue an education in the United States, where she is completing her Ph.D. Kakenya believes that education will empower and motivate young girls to become agents of change in their community and country.

Electrical engineer Aydogan Ozcan uses his expertise to solve global health issues – with a cell phone. His research team at the University of California, Los Angeles, has invented a way to turn common cell phones, already owned by 4 billion people worldwide, into imaging tools capable of bringing medical diagnoses to the most resource-poor corners of the planet. His modified phone uses a special light source and the phone’s camera to capture the image of a blood sample, essentially turning the phone into a lens-free microscope. Hundreds of these devices will be used this year to help diagnose malaria in Africa.

Musician and activist Feliciano dos Santos uses music to spread the message of sanitation and hygiene to some of the poorest, remotest villages in Mozambique. Santos’ band Massukos’ hit song, “Wash Your Hands,” is part of a public health campaign created by his NGO, Estamos. The project has led to the installation of thousands of sustainable “EcoSan” latrines, dramatically improving sanitation and reducing disease in the region. An added benefit is that the composting toilets turn waste into fertilizer, significantly increasing crop production, and allowing some families to earn income for the first time.

Molecular biologist Beth Shapiro, of Penn State University, studies ancient DNA to give new insight into the fundamental processes of evolution. This new field uses genetic information gleaned from ancient animals and plants to discover how evolution happens over time and territory. By analyzing DNA samples from species at many moments in time, Shapiro can trace changes in populations and overlay those changes with concurrent environmental events.“We can pinpoint when a species’ genetic diversity changed and see if that change may have been influenced by a specific event such as a new predator or shift in climate.”

Conservationist and wildlife researcher Emma Stokes began her work with the Wildlife Conservation Society in the Republic of Congo. Her team’s discovery of the single largest population of 125,000 lowland gorillas in a partially unexplored region of Congo has helped Stokes catalyze Congolese government action toward designating part of the region as a new protected area. She now works on behalf of another endangered species, the Asian tiger; only about 3,200 remain. The Tigers Forever Project aims to increase tiger populations by 50 percent in nine key sites across Asia over 10 years.

Herpetologist-toxinologist Zoltan Takacs has been intrigued by snakes since he captured and bred vipers as a child in Hungary. As an avid pilot and diver, surviving wars and snake bites, his travels have taken him to 133 countries in search of venoms. Toxins in animal venoms are nature’s perfect killers. Yet, the same toxins are the source of a dozen lifesaving drugs to treat high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes and cancer pain. At the University of Chicago Takacs co-invented a technology to create and screen toxin libraries that could push this number further and faster on the drug discovery path.

Marine biologist and conservationist Jose Urteaga works with Fauna and Flora International to develop monitoring protocols, habitat protection and a network of hatcheries for marine turtles. All seven species are endangered, some critically. Five species live and breed in Nicaragua, where Urteaga does his research. He works to stop the extensive poaching of eggs and adult turtles by offering locals new income alternatives such as organic farming, beekeeping and crafts. He teaches fishermen how to release hooked and entangled turtles and gives them new fish hooks that are less harmful to turtles.

National Geographic’s Emerging Explorers are part of the Society’s Explorer Programs, which include 13 Explorers-in-Residence and 12 National Geographic Fellows.

For more information please see… http://www.nationalgeographic.com/emerging.



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