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University News

Forging a Path

University celebrates alumna’s generosity with courtyard dedication

Posted in: Alumni, Education and Human Services, University

A woman wearing a white jacket with red flowers on it, holds an oversized pair of scissors and smiles after cutting a red ribbon as a man wearing a blue suit, smiles and applauds.
Wamwari Waichungo ’90 and President Jonathan Koppell celebrate the ribbon cutting of the newly dedicated Waichungo Family Courtyard in University Hall.

The path that led Wamwari Waichungo ’90 to Montclair and to the career she loves seems guided by fate. What has been purposeful, and impactful, is her unwavering drive to create pathways for future generations, which is leaving an indelible mark at her alma mater.

Her generosity was celebrated in a dedication of the Waichungo Family Courtyard in University Hall on April 26, recognizing Wamwari’s commitment to creating opportunities for the University, the College of Education and Human Services, and the next generation of food science leaders.

“It’s a great honor to have your name and story permanently be part of the University and to serve as a shining light, illuminating a path that countless others will follow,” said University President Jonathan Koppell at the dedication ceremony.

“I cannot express how meaningful it is to have this courtyard named after my family,” shared Wamwari. “For my parents, the late Charity and Asaph, education was both the cornerstone – and the catalyst – of their incredible lives.”

The serendipitous start for Wamwari’s road to Montclair began when her father, who was studying at Harvard while his daughters finished high school in Kenya, learned of Montclair from a classmate who was the son of then President David W.D. Dickson. Her sister, June, is also a Montclair graduate.

That led to Wamwari’s first trip to the United States for freshman orientation at Montclair. Then, it was a long line in a hot gym during registration that changed the trajectory of her education and set her on her path. “I stepped away for a minute, to speak to a gentleman sitting at a table with no line. It happened to be Dr. John Specchio from the Nutrition and Food Studies department. We talked about my interest in food and my love of cooking. By the time we finished, I was sold and decided to change my major from Mathematics to Home Economics with a concentration in Food and Nutrition.”

“If it weren’t for that conversation, I would have gone in an entirely different direction,” says Wamwari, who went on to earn a master’s and doctorate in Food Science at the University of Missouri-Columbia. “He showed me the path to the incredible career I have today. His advice was priceless.”

A woman stands in front of a plaque.
A plaque commemorates the Waichungo Family story to inspire students as they create their paths.

Wamwari currently serves as the vice president of Global Safety Assessment and Regulatory Affairs at SC Johnson, where she leads a team of more than 140 regulatory compliance, registration, and safety experts in more than 110 countries. Prior to joining SC Johnson, Wamwari spent more than 20 years with The Coca-Cola Company, culminating as vice president of Global Scientific and Regulatory Affairs, and worked at Campbell Soup Company and ConAgra Foods early in her career.

Reflecting her deep belief in the power of education, she established the Wamwari Waichungo Food Science Scholarship at Montclair in 2015 and committed additional endowment support for scholarships and student initiatives to support students in the Nutrition and Food Science program. Wamwari serves on the College of Education and Human Services Advisory Board and has been part of the President’s Club since 2015. She was honored as a distinguished alumna of the College and addressed the undergraduates during Convocation ceremonies in 2021.

Wamwari makes it a priority to serve as a catalyst for the next generation of STEM leaders, particularly young women and young professionals of color, including supporting scholarships at Alliance Girls High School in Kenya, the first high school for African girls, which her mother attended as a young girl. She also supports the June and Wamwari Waichungo scholarship at the high school she and her sister attended, Kenya High School. At the University of Missouri-Columbia, Wamwari is a Distinguished Fellow of the Monticello Society, serves on the advisory board of the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, and established the W. Waichungo Study Abroad Scholarship endowment that enables international learning opportunities for Food Science students.

“Wamwari’s story underscores the whole point of this University,” says Koppell. “It shows what a university can do in terms of developing human potential … and why it’s important for Montclair State University to thrive, because if we don’t develop that potential, we are wasting that potential.”

On a sunny day, people stand in a courtyard, listening to a man speaking at a podium.
The courtyard serves as a beautiful setting for President Koppell to acknowledge Wamwari’s tremendous support.
17 people pose in front of the Waichungo Family Courtyard mosaic sign.
Friends, family, faculty and staff gathered at the dedication ceremony.

Acknowledging Wamwari’s influence on students, College of Education and Human Services Acting Dean Katrina Bulkley shared how Wamwari’s belief in students has helped students believe in themselves.

“Thank you for being a wonderful role model … you have devoted your career to science, to nutrition, to helping young people, and to helping the world,” said Bulkley. “We are excited for students to come into this courtyard and to read about your family and to be inspired by you.”

Food Science major Amy Sheridan ’22, who will be graduating with her master’s in Food Science in May, is among the fortunate students who have benefitted from Wamwari’s mentorship and support.

“Dr. Waichungo and I have followed similar educational paths, and maybe that is why I feel a very deep connection to her,” Sheridan shared. “I am grateful to have received the Wamwari Waichungo Food Science scholarship, which helped financially, but also was incredibly inspiring since it was made possible by Dr. Waichungo, and I respect and admire all she has achieved and her desire to make a difference in the world.”

Paying it Forward

A woman speaks in front of a classroom full of students.
Wamwari shares life lessons for student success with more than 100 students.
A student smiles and leans forward to talk with a woman, as other students wait their turn in line.
Students engage with Wamwari after a presentation.

Wamwari’s visit to campus was filled with meaningful interactions with students, including a talk titled “Getting the most out of YOU!” with College of Education and Human Services students. Focused on smart, achievable life lessons for student success, the event attracted more than 100 students.

She also was the keynote speaker at the College’s awards and scholarship ceremony, sharing insight on how to embrace the educational journey for students to be successful and reinforcing the importance of giving back time, talent and philanthropic support once they graduate. After her address, Wamwari had the opportunity to present awards to this year’s Waichungo Scholars, and then she herself was surprised with a Donor Recognition Award for her philanthropic efforts in supporting student success.

Three women smile as they hold an award.
From left, College of Education and Human Services Acting Dean Katrina Bulkley, Wamwari Waichungo and Assistant Dean Carolina Gonzalez at the College’s awards ceremony, where Wamwari received an award in recognition for her support of student success.

“Wamwari exemplifies Montclair State University, in what she accomplished as a student, in what she’s accomplished professionally, and in what she’s doing as an alumna … showing what it means to be part of a community and the ways in which she can take her success and pay it forward to subsequent generations,” Koppell said in is remarks at the courtyard dedication.

Wamwari left those gathered in the courtyard with these thoughts: “I hope that current and future generations of students – as they walk through or sit in this courtyard – finding their way from one class to another – will discover resilience and create their own paths and embrace new opportunities with every step.”

A woman holding a pair of oversized scissors is flanked by three women and a man.
From left, Director of Development Yanira Amadeo, Amy Sheridan ’22, Wamwari Waichungo, President Jonathan Koppell and College of Education and Human Services Acting Dean Katrina Bulkley.

Story by Director of Development Communications Laura Iandiorio. Photos by John J. LaRosa.

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