"I couldn't ask for more:" Jesse Omondi's journey from Kenya to Purdue Engineering

Jesse Omondi loved three things: business, basketball, and engineering. At Purdue University, he found the perfect combination of all three! As this graduating senior moves on to the business and consulting world, he reflects on his Purdue journey.



Jesse was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. As the son of engineer, he clearly wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. “When I was in middle school, I would ask my dad all sorts of questions in the car,” Jesse remembers. “And he would say, ‘You’ll learn all that in your high school classes.’ And then in high school, I would ask him even more questions, and he said, ‘You’ll learn that in engineering school!’”

So how did he choose Purdue? “I wanted the opportunity to see the world and engage with different kinds of people,” he says. “I was really interested in entrepreneurship, and engineering. And I loved basketball. I did my research, and Purdue checked all those boxes!”

Jesse grew up in a big city, and had never visited the States, much less the Midwest. So when the airport bus left Chicago and headed south, Jesse was a little nervous seeing nothing but cornfields! “But I also saw many billboards for Purdue,” he says. “That’s when I realized that this was actually a huge deal. I was excited to come in and see what this famous school had to offer.”

Jesse jumped in to Purdue student life at the highest level, trying out for the Purdue Men’s Basketball team as a walk-on. “I didn’t have all the recruiting background the other players did, but they were so nice to me,” he says. “I had the chance to watch the IU-Purdue game from right behind the bench. Mackey Arena is so loud! I feel really bad for our opponents!”

Like all freshmen engineering students, Jesse went through the First-Year Engineering program, learning about the different schools Purdue Engineering had to offer. He quickly found that Mechanical Engineering spoke to him. “When I was young, I wanted to be an inventor... I was a real Jimmy Neutron kind of kid!” he laughs. “That’s why I was drawn to ME. It had a broad understanding of all fields. You learn to apply the physical aspects, the electrical aspects, the design aspects. It allowed me to combine all those disciplines to create whatever I wanted.”

Jesse appreciates how Mechanical Engineering incorporates so many different disciplines, enabling students to create prototypes of anything they can imagine.

He was especially drawn to design classes, like ME 263, where sophomore students collaborate to design and prototype a new product. “That’s when I first had the ‘aha’ moment,” he says. “We designed a cargo-carrying cart for a bicycle, and I was able to integrate some electrical knowledge, and even coding from my CS classes. We even talked about the business side of things. This is what I signed up for.”

Even COVID, which threw a wrench into everyone’s lives in 2020, couldn’t deter his enthusiasm. “I actually traveled back home to finish that spring semester from Kenya,” he says. “I also took a few summer classes online. We made it work, even though the time zones forced me to take exams at midnight! Thankfully, they began to allow students back into the country if we were vaccinated. It was so good to be back in person with my friends, even if we were all masked!”

Entrepreneurship in particular drew Jesse’s attention, since he was chosen to be part of the Data Mine learning community. “All of the people on my floor in Harrison were part of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation certificate,” he says. “Everybody is hungry to create. We’re all asking each other, ‘What are you doing?’ ‘What are you doing?’ We’re even placing bets on who’s going to make their first million!”

Jesse sees a perfect balance between entrepreneurship and engineering. “Engineering teaches you how to design a product,” he says. “Entrepreneurship helps you consider the business side of things: how can I turn this into a viable product? Now I can think about creating not just a product, but a whole company. That’s why I loved these marketing and business classes. It felt like a crash-course MBA!”

“The main thing you learn in engineering is how to take a problem and break it down into smaller problems,” he continues. “It may seem like a behemoth at first, but by taking it down into bite-size pieces, you really learn how to solve problems. It’s also very teamwork-oriented. I think every single class I took at Purdue offered an opportunity to help each other. You learn to work with all sorts of different people, whether they are in business or engineering.”

This led Jesse to try his hand at consulting clubs, many of which interacted with real-life businesses. “We had a CEO give us the greatest feedback,” he remembers. “He said, ‘Your team has broken this down in a way that it took my own team years to accomplish. Thank you for your great work.’ Had I not had engineering training, we probably wouldn’t have been able to do that. It gave me a huge upper hand in my entrepreneurship pursuits.”

Jesse sees entrepreneurship and engineering as working hand-in-hand.

All his hard work paid off. Jesse will soon start a full-time job at yet2, an innovation consulting firm based in Waltham, Massachusetts. “I’m so thankful for the experience Purdue gave me,” he says. “In my interview, they asked me about all the projects I worked on at Purdue; all the classes I took at Purdue; all the clubs I participated in at Purdue. They saw that I had the whole package, with both business and engineering experience.”

“Sometimes when you’re taking these tough classes, and your grades aren’t that great, your confidence tends to fluctuate,” he reflects. “You ask yourself, ‘Am I a good enough engineer?’ For me, the proof came when I began to interact with people in the business world. They actually told me, ‘We see the differences in you, compared to other people.’ All these things gave me the confidence that Purdue really did a good job to mold me, to be the best engineer I could be. I couldn’t ask for more!”


Writer: Jared Pike, jaredpike@purdue.edu, 765-496-0374