Kudos to Kuti | Lead Stories – Jamaica Gleaner

Standout student Kuti Ra Mahakoe has climbed another rung on the academic ladder, following his recent graduation from Claflin University in South Carolina where he was class valedictorian.
He was first featured by The Gleaner in 2011 when the then 12-year-old passed the Grade Six Achievement Test and six Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) subjects in one sitting.
Kuti Ra, who was homeschooled by his mother, Kamau Mahakoe, benefited from academic acceleration and began his high school journey at Jamaica College in third form.
He racked up a total of 17 Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) passes and went on to Hillel Academy for sixth form on a full scholarship.
The student, who holds a Bachelor of Science in biotechnology, admitted that the hardest part of being an international student was adjusting to the weather.
“Jamaica has no winter, whereas in South Carolina, over much of the school year the ambient temperature can get quite cold. I acclimated to that before too long,” he said.
He told The Gleaner that he chose biotechnology because it is the field which best allows him to combine his passion for the natural sciences with his desire to leverage the power of science.
“This field holds the solutions for many of the most intractable problems the world has yet to overcome; problems like food insecurity, disease, and malnutrition,” he explained.
Reflecting on his university tenure, he described it as uneventful on the academic front, as most of the disruptions came from the COVID-19 pandemic which presented a few unique difficulties for international students.
It became necessary for him to purchase expensive PCR tests and, with the closure of Jamaica’s ports, he was forced to stay in the US for longer than he had anticipated.
“Besides the effects of the pandemic, being an international student generally comes with stress and uncertainty. One recurring problem that most international students face is finding places to stay during periods when the school is closed and finding the funds needed for travel,” the graduate said.
Young Kuti Ra maintained a 4.0 grade point average (GPA) every semester which earned him eight academic semester excellence awards and he was also included on the President’s Honour List every semester.
He received the Claflin University International Alumni Association Scholarship in 2021 and was also awarded most outstanding student in leadership and service by The School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at Claflin.
Kuti Ra’s studies were mainly funded by the Alice Carson Tisdale Honors College Scholarship and he received funding from the Claflin University International Alumni Association Scholarship for one year.
The remainder of his expenses were covered by him and his parents.
Kuti Ra is Kamau’s second child and first son, who was born on her 24th birthday.
“I delivered him by myself in my bathroom and so he was my birthday present,” she recounted.
“Kuti graduated summa cum laude and he has remained focused and conscientious throughout the years. The academic rigour and acuity required to achieve this is exceptional and I am truly proud of my son,” she told The Gleaner.
Kamau shared that she and Kuti Ra’s father, Omari Ra, provided emotional and financial support to their son during his university tenure.
The mother referenced poet Haki Madhubuti, who said, “Be what you want your children to be”, as she explained that parents can help their children realise their academic goals.
“I am a firm believer in this policy. Parents should let their children see them reading, having deep and meaningful conversations and engaging in activities that enhance and progress them. Children will emulate what they see, not so much what they are told,” said the 48-year-old mother, who is the founder and principal of the Kemet Maasai Academy.
Kuti Ra balanced academics with involvement on campus as a member of the Tour Guide Association and the American Chemical Society.
He served as vice-president of the Claflin Global Student Organization for the 2021-2022 academic year.
During his university tenure, he had the opportunity to present his research at the SERMACS conference in Puerto Rico and in Greenville, South Carolina.
He explained that presentations are a very important part of a STEM major’s academic resume and the cost of the trips were covered by the university.
Mahakoe told The Gleaner that he was grateful to be selected as one of nine valedictorians.
“I didn’t expect that my class would have nine valedictorians, but I’m glad that the whole cohort was able to be recognised for their hard work,” he said.
Now, the 24-year-old will be pursuing a PhD in biosciences at Pennsylvania State University.
The PhD programme for which he has been accepted covers tuition and he will also receive a stipend.
The stellar student hopes to return to Jamaica after working in the United States for a few years.
“I want to develop genetically modified organisms that will contribute to food security and food sovereignty in the developing world. In Jamaica, for instance, this could mean bringing economically improved livestock strains to market here, though I feel that there is a lot of work to be done before GMO animals are readily embraced by the Jamaican public,” he detailed.
To Jamaican students who will begin university in September, he said, “Determination and planning are among the most important factors in success. As long as you don’t lose sight of your end goals and plan for those goals based upon realistic assessments of your unique situation, you will be able to make it through most challenges that you face. Making the journey through university in the states can be daunting, but where there is a will there is often a way.”
judana.murphy@gleanerjm.com
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