George Agoki, chair and professor of engineering, Department of Engineering & Computer Science
The child of a missionary pastor in Kenya, George Agoki grew up in an Adventist atmosphere. After moving to Uganda in fifth grade, he attended Bugema Missionary College until 12th grade. During that time, the Seventh-day Adventist atmosphere provided a "hedge" around him, as he calls it, filtering the outside world and not presenting a test of faith.
All that changed when George began attending a public advanced high school, in preparation for university. Two years before, his older sister lost part of her leg in a car accident, and his lifelong fascination with "how things work" transformed into a desire to understand the causes of accidents and how to prevent them. George approached the missionary at his elementary school to ask if the Seventh-day Adventist Church would sponsor him to study engineering at a public university or abroad. He was told, "The church in Africa does not require the services of an engineer." But that didn't stop him. It "was always on his heart to become an engineer," says George. There were no Adventist schools that offered engineering degrees, so he entered the University of Nairobi shortly afterward, and encountered quite a different world.
"In my country, a degree is everything," says George. And to earn that degree, students are required to attend all classes—even those held on Saturday. Examinations were held on Saturday, and it was not uncommon for Adventists to cave in and take the tests on Saturday. The students were told, "Get your degree first and come back to your religion later." But George and a group of his friends were determined not to turn their backs on God. He and his friends miraculously passed their classes and earned their degrees. George continued at the University of Nairobi, earning his Master's and Ph.D.
At age 26, George was hired by the University of Nairobi to teach. Together with the other Adventist professors on campus, George sponsored the Adventist students. He and his colleagues took the students determined not to attend class on Sabbath to church, invited them for meals and spent the day with them. In the evening, students and professors returned to the school where the exams would be administered. George encouraged students to maintain both their faith and their commitment to the discipline, but "all the time I was serving God from the sidelines ... part-time," he says.
Before his mother died, George promised her that when an opportunity to serve the church full-time arose, he would not look back. While serving as chair of the civil engineering department at a second university in Nairobi, George received a phone call from Roland McKenzie, vice chancellor of Baraton University, and Godson Mgeni, university registrar, asking him to be registrar of Baraton University. After "much prayer and wrestling with the Lord," George and his wife decided to accept.
Five years later, as principal of Kamagambo Adventist College, George was a delegate to the Toronto General Conference Session in 2000, and was elected to the General Conference Nominating Committee, which Niels-Erik Andreasen, president of Andrews University, chaired. Following the Session, George and his wife visited his younger brother, a student at Andrews, and visited the United States.
His sister-in-law "casually mentioned" the Department of Engineering & Computer Science at Andrews. While visiting the facilities, George met a former student who asked him, "Professor, why don't you teach here?" George didn't consider the question at the time; he was concerned with helping Kamagambo grow. Because of his desire to help his college enhance their curriculum and develop an Adventist engineering program, George asked to meet with the president to ask for financial aid. The president was none other than Niels-Erik himself.
George returned to Kenya. At a meeting of the East African Union he was offered the position of associate youth director, which he accepted. That December, a package arrived from Andrews University. "By that time I had completely forgotten about Andrews," says George. But Andrews had not forgotten about him. He was their first choice for associate professor of engineering, and they wanted him to start in July. Six months was a very short amount of time to move his family of six to the United States, but with God's leading they accomplished it.
The Agokis were originally scheduled to fly into the United States on September 12, 2001. "Were it not for the airline having an opening for us to fly into Chicago," says George, "we probably never would have made it to the States." The Agokis arrived a week before September 11.
In 2002, the Department of Engineering & Computer Science began "mounting a full-fledged engineering program." Six years later, they received full accreditation from the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology. Work is underway to get the Computer Science program accredited as well. George continues to hope that an Adventist engineering program will one day be established on the African continent.
Samantha Snively is a student news reporter in the Office of Integrated Marketing & Communication at Andrews University.