Meet an amazing young woman who’s already changing the world

Why does it seem like behind every amazing woman there’s a sport she played when she was younger? For Cheryl Mulor, that sport was soccer. And while the sport wasn’t her passion growing up in Kenya, playing it did teach her an important lesson about what she was capable of.

You see, in Kenya, soccer is huge—it just hasn’t always been that way for girls. “In Kenya, there is so much focus on men and men’s sports. I have four brothers and I just always played soccer with them, because why not? Doing that motivated me to play in school. I loved the sport, but I was always aware that I was doing something that not many girls did, which just motivated me even more.”

Fast forward to today, and it’s clear her early Girls-Can-Do-Anything attitude served her well. Last month we introduced you to Cheryl and her health startup Imhotech, which won second place at Samaira Mehta’s Boss Bizz 2.0 Entrepreneurship Academy. (Play Like a Girl CEO Dr. Kimberly Clay spoke to participants at the virtual event, and we also sponsored the $1,000 prize.) But to stop there would be to miss out on so much more of this young woman’s story. We caught up with Cheryl recently (via Zoom, of course) and were so impressed by her strength, determination and wisdom beyond her years.

Cheryl arrived in the United States four years ago, after earning a full scholarship (and then some) to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Kenya, which literally straddles the equator, is a far cry from Madison, Wisconsin, but she was so impressed by the school’s civil engineering program, that she was willing to sacrifice the warmer temps for the opportunity to study there.  

Once she arrived, she felt a little like she did on the soccer field back in Kenya. “Civil engineering is really male and really white, while I’m female and Black,” she says. “Coming into the program, I was expecting it, but you really can’t be prepared for it enough.”

In a lecture hall with more than 300, she was the only Black woman.

“It was intimidating at first,” she admits. “I’d ask myself, ‘Will I be smart enough?’ And sometimes I doubted myself, but I eventually got to a place where I stopped worrying about the numbers of female students and just focused on proving to myself that I could do it. I knew I could work hard and do just as well as my classmates.”

She also recognizes the value she brings as a Black woman to a white male-dominated field like civil engineering. “Whether a Black woman from Kenya like me or someone who has a completely different background, the world is better when these unique perspectives come together.”

Cheryl’s plan, after earning a master’s degree in sustainable design and construction and working as a civil engineer in the United States, is to eventually take her knowledge and expertise to help improve residential construction in rural Kenya. “I grew up in a village where the homes are made out of mud and had grass-thatched roofs,” she says. “But these types of homes do not survive harsh conditions, so there’s always repair happening and it’s just this cycle of destruction and reconstruction. I want to discover how to take these local materials and modify them to be able to create structures that are better for the economy and the environment.”

There also are growth plans for Imhotech, which Cheryl started with two other engineering students at UW-M. Cofounder Chumani Mokoena is from South Africa and is a student in nuclear engineering. He serves as team leader for Imhotech. Yasmine Abdennadher, an electrical engineering major from Tunisia, is in charge of research and development. A third friend, Anya Gessesse, who was born in Ethiopia and grew up in California, is studying computer engineering and is the company’s lead software developer.

Despite hailing from very different parts of Africa, they discovered a similarity among them—all had stories of family members or friends who were denied medical care because they didn’t have their medical records on them in their time of need.

Imhotech is helping solve that problem by building a tool—an electronic health record that is compatible with low-speed internet—that allows patients easier access to their medical records and the medical care they need when they need it. The $1,000 prize from Boss Bizz 2.0 is serving as seed money for the startup, and Cheryl says the funds will go toward hiring software developers and coders to help build the prototype. The idea also caught the attention of the Clinton Foundation’s Clinton Global Initiative (a longtime partner of Play Like a Girl), which awarded Cheryl and company $3,000 to help move the idea forward. A prototype is already in the works, and Cheryl expects there to be a pilot program in place next year.

So, what advice does Cheryl have for the girls in your life? It’s simple: “Go for it.

“Whatever you want to do in life, do it,” she says. “Whatever boys can do you can do 10 times better. It needs hard work and it’s not going to be easy, but that mentality will take you far.”