Ugandan gets PhD in aerospace engineering at 29

Dr Jdiobe Muwanika (pictured),  graduated from Oklahoma State University in the United States on May 10. Photos | Courtesy

What you need to know:

  • Dr Muwanika, who faced significant adversity after losing both of his parents at a young age, graduated from Oklahoma State University in the United States on May 10.

Dr Jdiobe Muwanika has entered the annals of Uganda’s academic history by becoming one of the first individuals to obtain a Master’s degree and PhD in Aerospace Engineering at a very young age.

Dr Muwanika, 29, who faced significant adversity after losing both of his parents at a young age, graduated from Oklahoma State University in the United States on May 10.

His research focused on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with ducted counter-rotating propellers, which has the potential to revolutionize the design and performance of UAVs, making them quieter, more efficient, and more versatile.

Despite the challenges he faced, Dr Muwanika (born in 1995) remained determined in his pursuit of education. He completed his primary education at Two Way Primary School in Busia District and his secondary education at Lake View Secondary School in Jinja District before pursuing higher education at Oklahoma State University, where he obtained a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 2019, a Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering in 2020, and a PhD in Aerospace Engineering in May 2024.

“Throughout my life, I have been driven by a passion for science, engineering, and innovation, dedicating myself to addressing real world challenges and contributing to the advancement of the aerospace industry,” he said in an interview on Sunday.

He currently applies his expertise as an aerospace engineer in research and development at The Boeing Company, one of the world’s largest aerospace companies.
“I have dreamed of being an engineer while growing up and worked hard to make that dream a reality,” he added.

Asked whether he harbours any plans of working in Uganda, Dr Muwanika says: “As a Ugandan, I am deeply committed to giving back to my home country, and in future, I plan to collaborate with Ugandan institutions and organisations to share my knowledge and expertise in aerospace engineering.”

Uganda is in its initial stages of building a domestic aeronautics and space science industry.

President Museveni has consistently urged Ugandans to embrace sciences, research, and technology as a key means to enhance development, support industrial growth, bring about socio-economic transformation, create jobs, and work towards elevating the country to middle-income status.

Dr Muwanika aims to inspire and support the next generation of Ugandan scientists and engineers, as well as contribute to the development of the aerospace sector in Uganda through fostering partnerships and providing mentorship.

He advises aspiring youth to first acknowledge God in all their endeavors, nurture their passion for science, engineering, and innovation from the very beginning, and approach their work with discipline and dedication.

The Minister of Science, Technology, and Innovation, Dr Monica Musenero, said the government has actively embarked on compiling the actual number of skilled Ugandans in the country and diaspora, adding that some Ugandans have been training at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.

“There are many fields that relate to aerospace, and we are currently actively compiling the actual number of Ugandans, both in the country and diaspora, who are skilled, but we have some with Masters and PhDs,” she explained.

She said because there is no definite industry to employ them, they are scattered in and outside the country, noting that the country is currently focusing on skilling in specific practical areas and training more Ugandans.

“We recently sent four Ugandans to Egypt for a nine-month hands-on skilling programme, while some went to China for two short similar skills. Now that the country has started a definite bureau, we encourage young people to take up this type of training because employment opportunities are going to rapidly increase,” said Dr Musenero.

She has, however, applauded Dr Muwanika for being a “pathfinder” and pledged to absorb him back home.

“We hail heroes and champions like Dr Muwanika for being pathfinders; they did not pursue something because it was easy, but because they were passionate enough to overcome any obstacles that came their way. We hope we can attract him and others to return home with their expertise and work with the younger engineers to build their nation,” she added.