Grateful Alumnus Pays it Forward
For Martin A. Mbugua ’95SVC, ’06G, major accomplishments in his professional life have flowed from St. John’s University. A member of the Board of Governors who will become a Trustee later this year, Mr. Mbugua views his time at St. John’s as a great gift—one he wishes to pay forward to future generations.
A native of Kenya, Mr. Mbugua grew up in Nakuru, a town about 100 miles from the capital city of Nairobi. Throughout his early academic career, Mr. Mbugua was on a path to becoming a civil engineer, but while studying complex subject matter such as mathematics, chemistry, and physics, he developed a love for writing.
“I really love storytelling,” he recalled, noting that he was editor of his high school magazine and enjoyed writing essays as early as the first grade. “Our parents would take us on trips, and the deal was we would write essays about the experience. It became a natural thing to do, and I really embraced it.”
Eventually, Mr. Mbugua shifted gears. The late Br. Stephen Creagh, F.S.C., a dear family friend, former neighbor, and high school headmaster, alerted Mr. Mbugua to a journalism apprenticeship program at a Nairobi firm that published business and farming magazines. “I knew after a few years that this was clearly the direction in which I wanted to go,” he stressed.
Feeling he had accomplished all he could in Kenya, Mr. Mbugua began exploring universities with journalism programs in the United States, and his research led him to St. John’s. “Its location in New York City was ideal for me, because it is in the media capital of the world. I wanted to test my mettle in this area, and what better place to do it than in New York City?”
Mr. Mbugua received a scholarship, settled in a small apartment in Jamaica, a short walk from the Queens, NY, campus, “and thus began an amazing new chapter for me,” he said. While at St. John’s, Mr. Mbugua began working at the campus library, a position facilitated by the late Sr. Marie Melton, R.S.M., former Dean of University Libraries, and a good friend of Br. Stephen.
After one semester, Mr. Mbugua started working at St. John’s Today, which at the time was the official University newspaper. “There, I continued building on this passion by telling great St. John’s stories,” he noted. At the same time, Mr. Mbugua freelanced for the top two newspapers in Kenya. “At St. John’s, I made lifelong friends who are still a part of my life today.”
During his time at St. John’s, Mr. Mbugua was selected for the President’s Society, the University’s highest honor society, in which students serve as ambassadors for the President. “It was a great honor to represent the University at that level and have the opportunity to meet so many generous benefactors and alumni.”
Mr. Mbugua credits St. John’s with excellent preparation for life after graduation. “St. John’s was unique. Everything I was taught in class and my time at St. John’s Today was immediately applicable to my career. I was able to hit the ground running.”
Mr. Mbugua wanted to work his way up the ladder in the New York media landscape. In addition to freelancing, he became an Editorial Assistant at the United Nations and served as an Assistant Editor for the Queens Chronicle, which enabled him to have a hand in nearly every aspect of newspaper production, including story planning, photography, editing, layout, and design.
From there, he made the leap to the New York Daily News. “It was the best job I could ever have dreamed of as I was covering this city for a paper with a great New York flavor, pounding the pavement, and developing stories.” Mr. Mbugua wrote about Queens, then did general assignment reporting and eventually covered the police and fire beat. “It gave me a glimpse into the inner workings of this amazing city.” Mr. Mbugua was an integral member of the team that covered the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and the events that followed.
During the next phase of his career, Mr. Mbugua worked in communications and marketing at institutions of higher learning, including Princeton University and Carnegie Mellon University. He is about to transition from his current position as Vice President for Communications and Marketing at Skidmore College to lead external relations at New York University-Abu Dhabi, a portal campus of New York University in the United Arab Emirates.
“Over time, I came to realize St. John’s had played a significant part in everything I was doing,” he explained. “That foundation keeps resonating, and I felt I needed to give back any way I could.” After conversations with several people, including a University Trustee, Mr. Mbugua was soon nominated to join the Board of Governors.
“That gave me the opportunity to connect with other Board members and the President, to share my thoughts and remain connected to an institution that means so much to me. I cannot say just how much of an honor that is. It strengthens that bond with my beloved alma mater and gives me a chance to engage and pay it forward.”