From Kenya to Mississippi: Teacher dreams of being engineer

Published 7:25 am Sunday, January 2, 2022

Cyprian Ng’etich, a Kenya native turned Mississippi middle school teacher, has always had his head in the clouds.

With his childhood home near a hospital and airstrip built by foreign missionaries, small planes came and went often. From time to time, government officials would arrive in helicopters to visit the area.

As far back as he can remember, Ng’etich was always fascinated by “any object that flew.” Yearning to build, design or fly those objects someday kept him going.

“When I was in high school, sometimes I would tend to lose focus. So, I had a picture in the front of my desk of a jet fighter plane,” Ng’etich said. “Every time I felt I was a little bit demotivated, I would just open the desk, look at that, and instantly, I would get some motivation.”

Despite having grown up with one eye on the sky, Ng’etich had never stepped foot on a plane before coming to the United States in 2014, a moment he’d dreamt of.

To this day, his journey to America is the only time he’s flown.

“I had never seen a plane that big in my life until when we boarded,” Ng’etich said. “I could just feel that happiness, that joy that I’m flying in a Boeing plane for the first time.”

Ng’etich fell asleep a couple of hours into the flight and woke up several hours later to a wondrous sight — a blanket of massive clouds outside his window, shining gold in the morning sunlight over the United Kingdom.

From the U.K., he flew to Dallas, Texas, and finally to Monroe, Louisiana, where he started school at Grambling State University.

FROM RIFT VALLEY TO BLUE MOUNTAIN

Ng’etich’s journey from Bomet, a town in the Rift Valley Province of Kenya, to Blue Mountain College is an interesting story.

He attended the Mother of Apostles Minor Seminary in Eldoret, Kenya, for high school, where he learned to speak English and Swahili on top of his native language, Kalenjin.

In 2014, two years after graduating high school, Ng’etich arrived in the United States.

He spent a single semester studying at Grambling State University in Louisiana before transferring to Hinds Community College’s Vicksburg campus. While at Hinds, he began training for cross-country, running at the Vicksburg National Military Park.

Toward the end of 2017, he attended a cross-country race at Choctaw Trails in Clinton, where he ran the race as an “unattached” runner, meaning he was unaffiliated with any school.

While there, he met Blue Mountain College cross-country coach Phillip Laney, who offered him the chance to visit Blue Mountain’s campus.

The college’s small-town atmosphere charmed Ng’etich.

By the end of the following week, he’d initiated his transfer to Blue Mountain College.

“I feel like it was a God thing,” Ng’etich said.

BECOMING A MISSISSIPPIAN

Even before arriving in America, Ng’etich had consumed American, even Southern, culture.

“I was already familiar with country music,” Ng’etich said. “That’s the kind of music I love to listen to.”

He grew up listening to Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” and Kenny Rogers’ “Coward of the County.”

“When I listen to music, I go for the message,” Ng’etich said.

His favorite tune is “Humble and Kind” by Tim McGraw, a song whose title and message Ng’etich strives to embody.

He also enjoys gospel music, often listening to K-Love on the radio while driving.

One struggle for Ng’etich was adjusting to Mississippi’s climate.

Coming from Bomet, where the temperature typically hovers between 50 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, to Northeast Mississippi, where the temperature regularly dips below 30 degrees in winter and above 90 degrees in the summer, was a tough adjustment.

“With time, I’ve been able to adjust, especially with cold,” Ng’etich said. “Because I don’t like cold. I’m a warm person. So with cold, it’s been a challenge trying to adapt.”

Being active in sports and running has helped him to cope with the change in climate, but that wasn’t the only thing he had to adjust to.

Although there isn’t an enormous difference between the types of foods Africans and Americans eat, there are differences in the way food is prepared, in the spices and methods of cooking.

He enjoys most of the food he’s tried in the South, but defaults to ordering a hamburger if there’s nothing else on the menu that’s especially appealing.

‘I KNEW I HAD THE TALENT’

Ng’etich’s first paycheck in the United States came not from a job, but from a pencil.

In his second week in the U.S. Ng’etich showed some of his artwork to a man who was fixing his laptop. The man was so impressed, he commissioned Ng’etich to draw a portrait of his granddaughter.

The man paid Ng’etich for the portrait; Ng’etich used that money to pay for his laptop’s repair.

“After that, I felt something within myself that pushed me towards doing more,” Ng’etich said.

From that day forward, Ng’etich invested more time and money into his art. He bought materials and now draws daily.

“I knew I had the talent when I was 8 years,” Ng’etich said. “But back in Kenya, most people don’t appreciate talents. They tell you ‘Go to school. Find a good career. Get a job and get married and so on.’ I didn’t really find more support with my art until I came over to the United States.”

Ng’etich specializes in pencil portraits and hyperrealism drawings.

Most of the pieces Ng’etich has produced are commissions. He’s completed around 100 of them since 2014.

But prints and original versions of his art are also currently for sale at Relics Antique Marketplace in Tupelo and Rip Jax Mercantile in Ripley. They include portraits of Elvis Presley, Nelson Mandela and William Faulkner, among others.

A website is in the works, but Ng’etich promotes his work via Facebook and Instagram for the time being.

A MATH TEACHER WITH DREAMS OF BEING AN AEROSPACE ENGINEER

Although he loves to draw, Ng’etich’s future lies not on paper, but in the sky.

Growing up, Ng’etich always wanted to be an aerospace engineer. But he felt he had to consider the most logical steps to build his career.

So he started out teaching eighth grade math at East Union Attendance Center, a subject that aligns with his future career plans.

In being a teacher, Ng’etich is also following in the footsteps of his father, Anthony Kipngetich Rutto. Rutto was a math, religious studies English teacher at the fifth through eighth grade level for several schools around Bomet.

Ng’etich graduated from Blue Mountain College in December 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a minor in secondary education, which helped land him a spot as a teacher at East Union.

The 2021-22 school year is his first as a full-time teacher, and it’s been amazing, he said.

Having moved to Mississippi from outside of the country, Ng’etich said his students, who address him as “Mr. Cyp,” are curious and want to know more about him.

“It’s an opportunity and I’m so blessed to be in their midst, being their math teacher,” Ng’etich said. “I just love their spirit and the fact that the majority of them, if not all, are ready every time they come to class to want to learn.”

Not only is Ng’etich a teacher, but he’s also head coach of East Union’s archery team. While attending Blue Mountain, he joined the archery team in 2019. Though he competed for just one year, he had a knack for it and was part of a group that competed at a regional, state and national level.

Ng’etich said he’s been grateful to work for a school administration that was patient as he transitioned visas.

“The school was so gracious. They waited on me,” Ng’etich said. “When I got my paperwork, they were like ‘Welcome back.’ That’s one thing that I really appreciated about being at East Union.”

For the moment, Ng’etich is here on an Optional Practical Training visa. In January, he’ll apply for a two-year extension available for students who have earned a degree in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

At 29 years old, Ng’etich doesn’t see age as an issue in achieving his goals. He’s always looking ahead. And up.

“If you have an urge within yourself that is always burning,” he said, “I feel like that thing is not going to stop until you have it fulfilled.”