Most prosperous, successful individuals have inspiring backstories of growth, and Dr. Jerono Rotich is no exception to this rule. Indiana University’s newly appointed Associate Dean for Organizational Climate, Inclusion, and Belonging recently shared her story, which started in a Kenyan village and has now led her to a distinguished research institute in the United States. While her recounting primarily focuses on her personal experiences, initiatives, and achievements, the story’s overarching theme is one of resilience, blossoming, and relentless pursuit for positive change.

Humble Beginnings

Dr. Rotich was born in a small village in Kenya, as one of two daughters in a family of nine children. As she was growing up, her father encouraged her to pursue an education in a society that often disregarded women. “My father was a teacher, and he constantly emphasized the importance of education. We grew up without electricity, so he always made sure we had kerosene so that we could study even when it was dark,” she remembers.

Dr. Jerono Rotich
Dr. Rotich enjoying the beautiful sunset at Masai Mara, Kenya. Photo via

Both her parents raised their children with everything they needed to succeed and consistently advocated for their daughters’ academic pursuits, not just for their sons’. They also supported their children’s other passions and skills. 

This encouragement was crucial for Dr. Rotich because she not only has brain: she also has brawn. “I loved sports and played any that I could make time for: gymnastics, handball, basketball, track and field,” she says.

Because of her commitment to her education, Dr. Rotich got the opportunity to attend Kenyatta University, an esteemed college in Kenya. She carried her natural affinity for both science and sports with her, and so she pursued a path in sports science and kinesiology, working with nationally ranked Kenyan athletes. It was at this time, however, that Dr. Rotich noticed that very few woman professors taught in her program. She says, “I realized there was a lack of representation from women around me, and there weren’t a ton of female role models to look up to. There were maybe three women in Kenya who studied kinesiology, and I felt that I wanted to change that narrative.” Thus, after briefly teaching at the Kenya Science Teachers College in Kenya, now known as the Kenya Science Campus, she decided to pursue higher education, moved to the United States, and obtained her MS in kinesiology at SUNY Brockport.

Overcoming Hardship

Originally, Dr. Rotich wanted to pursue a medical degree in sports medicine after completing her MS, but she was faced with a circumstance that many women in the STEM field often encounter: motherhood. She decided that pursuing a PhD would be a more flexible option for simultaneously raising her own two daughters and following her goals, and so she began working on a doctorate in kinesiology at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. However, another challenged Dr. Rotich throughout this period of her life. “I was a victim of domestic violence,” she shares. The abusive relationship began in Kenya prior to their marriage but persisted and worsened as they moved to the United States. “When I finally split away from my partner my options were limited as an international student. I could either continue to pursue my degree as a single mother raising two children, or I could return to my abuser, [who had fled to Kenya after an abusive incident that almost left me dead].” She was ultimately empowered by friends, mentors, and her own passion to continue on the path of higher education. She says that as she concentrated on her goals and on her safety, she kept the voice of her adviser, Dr. Tom Martinek, in her mind and could hear him repeating: “You can do this, kiddo”

Dr. Jerono Rotich
Dr. Rotich spending time with her daughters, Valerie and Vianaire. Photo by Moments in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Once she completed her PhD, she continued to work in higher education at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University at North Carolina Central University, While describing the early years of her journey, Dr. Rotich continually comes back to one motto that truly encapsulates her spirit: “Resilience saves.”

Advocacy and Empowerment

Dr. Rotich’s own formative years—her personal experiences as an international student, as a single mother, and as a survivor of domestic violence—now fuel her commitment to empower women and to advocate for diversity. She has founded and headed several organizations devoted to making positive change for individuals who may be experiencing similar situations of oppression:

WOYO (Women and Youth) & Global Diversity Consulting

This organization aims to empower single mothers, women, and youth facing adversity by providing mentorship and engagement. “When I made my resolution to continue my education as a single mother, I thought about how many other women must face similar choices. I feel that women should empower one another whenever they can,” says Dr. Rotich, commenting on what inspired her to establish this organization and to serve as its CEO. The firm provides resources including leadership workshops, symposia, and conferences, among other services.

JVV Wellness and Safety

Named with the first initials of her and daughters, Dr. Rotich, along with her daughters Valerie and Vienna, were inspired to create this organization which focuses on promoting healthy behaviors. As part of this group’s work, they have taught such skills as CPR, first aid, and emergency preparedness in immigrant communities.

KESID Foundation (Kenya Students in Diaspora)

Dr. Jerono Rotich
Dr. Rotich speaking at a Womens Empowerment Event for WOYO in Kenya.

Driven by her experiences as an international student, Dr. Rotich created this foundation to support and mentor international students who leave their home countries. This program pairs students with mentors who have similar international backgrounds to help them navigate higher education. In addition to having monthly meetings on topics like mental health and financial wellness, this organization also raises money for international students going through emergencies. This program was especially critical during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many international students were unable to return home and had nowhere to go in the United States.

Looking to the Future

In her new role at Indiana University, Dr. Rotich looks forward to making a diverse group of students feel welcome. “I work alongside the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to foster an environment at our school that allows students to feel like they belong,” she explains. “We want our students to work with diverse individuals, so recruitment and retention of underrepresented [faculty and staff are among] our most important initiatives.”

Although Dr. Rotich has had many roles during her life’s journey so far, she feels that her current mission to cultivate diversity may well be her most important.  “If we can change the environment, we can make this a place where everyone thrives,” she asserts. She remains committed to using her life experience to empower others, to create a flourishing, diverse community, and to encourage the “bloom” in Bloomington!

Jodi KutznerJodi Kutzner, MPH, (she/they) is a Doctoral Candidate in the Applied Health Science Department at Indiana University. Her research explores the genetic and environmental risks for co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders. She is a leader and member of several professional organizations including the American Public Health Association and the Graduate & Professional Student Government at Indiana University.