Michelle Boit: How Kenya’s First Female Petroleum Engineer Kept Promise By Building Mother Sh30 Million House

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Michelle Boit: How Kenya’s First Female Petroleum Engineer Kept Promise By Building Mother Sh30 Million House
Michelle Boit Photocredit/Courtesy

By Prudence Minayo

Michelle Boit is Kenya’s first female petroleum engineer. She is also a mentor to many people across the engineering field and has a foundation named after her. She has served as the chair of the board of directors at Society of Petroleum Engineers International. The engineer has a Master of Business Administration from the University of Texas in Dallas. 

Here is her story as told by WoK

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Background

Michelle was born in Tulwet village in Uasin Gishu county to parents who valued education. Her father and mother worked at Moi University as Biochemical Engineering lecturer and administrator respectively. 

Michelle always excelled in school and did well in the sciences. While in high school, she set her mind to pursue a STEM related course. Unfortunately, in her final examination, she scored a B (plain) in the sciences.  This put a halt to her dreams of becoming an engineer. At the time, it was only A students who got the chance to pursue engineering courses  

“However good I was in sciences, I got ‘B’ grades and did not make the cut-off points required to pursue chemical engineering studies in Kenya, so I took an accounting course,” she said. 

While she did accounting, her dream was to be an engineer. Realizing she was unhappy, her father decided to help her pursue her dream in the US. She joined Texas Tech University to pursue Chemical engineering and went on to  graduate with first class honors. 

While at Texas, she developed an interest in mentoring other people. She visited various schools to mentor young people including Roberts Elementary School, Slatton Middle School and Overton Elementary School.

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Career 

She applied for an internship at the British Petroleum (BP) oil and gas company in Amarillo, Texa . Michelle got the opportunity to work with three mentors who taught her a lot about the industry of petroleum. After completing the internship, she was offered a job and went on to work at the company for seven years. Apart from Amarillo, she also worked in Wamsutter in Wyoming, and Farmington in New Mexico. During her working days, she visited several universities where she encouraged students pursuing petroleum engineering. Some of the institutions she visited include: University of Texas, Texas Tech University and Texas A & M University.

Having acquired lots of experience in the petroleum industry, she got a job in Kenya in 2014 with Tullow Oil. This was two years after oil had been discovered in Turkana and the demand for Kenyans who were skilled in petroleum engineering was high. She decided to use her skills in her country and be among the first team to explore the oil in the volatile county. 

She began working as the East Africa Well Services Engineer. Michelle Boit maintained and managed all Tullow company oil wells in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

In 2017, they began the first oil production company called Early Oil Production Scheme (EOPS). She was the project lead and saw to the project from its initial stages to the end. 

In 2019, she left Tullow to begin her own consultancy company.  Her first client was Glencore Oil Company in Chad. 

Mentorship Program

Having always had an interest in mentoring others, she began the Michelle Boit Mentorship Program in Kenya in 2014. The organization provides mentorship to students, graduates and young professionals. They are also trained on peer mentorship, career development and networking opportunities. The foundation has a scholarship arm that supports bright but needy students.

She hopes that through mentorship, she can be able to help young people explore their talents and abilities. She also encourages young girls to pursue STEM. In fact, at the beginning, this program was centered around mentoring girls and she started by visiting various high schools including her former school, Kapnyeberai High School. They then expanded to include others.

So far, the program has mentored over 1000 people, 80% from Kenya and 20% from the rest of East Africa  

Family 

As she was preparing for her graduation in 2018, her father was denied a visa to the US to witness his daughter’s milestone. They decided that he would visit her once she was working. Being the first born of three children, her dream was to take care of her family. Unfortunately, her father passed away and she stepped up to help the family. 

Michelle promised to build her mother a house and asked her to send a plan for the kind of house she wanted. After seeing the plan, Michelle made some changes and then began the process of building the house in Eldoret. 

In 2018, the plans came to a standstill as the whole family went to the US to witness Michelle graduate with a Masters. Afterwards, her mum became very sick and was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. This was not just emotionally draining but also put a dent on her finances. Luckily, her husband was very supportive. They continued with the construction several months later when the mum recovered. 

The house which cost at least Sh30 million was dubbed White House. While others thought she should have invested the money in something else like rental apartments, she knew its significance. 

“I had told myself that as soon as I finish school and find a job, I would take care of my parents. I didn’t want them to suffer in their old age,” Michelle said.

“I built it as a legacy, for memories and for generations to come. I am also teaching my children to be independent as I don’t want to extremely rely on them financially when I’m old— maybe just their emotional support. I want to break that cycle where the children have to take care of their parents as an obligation,” she told PD.

Michelle Boit built the house, her sister who was a nurse was in charge of furnishings and the brother’s work was maintenance.

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