Dr. Isaya Kisekka didn’t dream about becoming an agricultural engineer. In fact, while taking his university entrance examinations in his home country of Uganda, Kisekka was imagining his future in the field of electrical engineering.
It wasn’t in the cards. In Uganda, the government influences what students will study while at university, especially for those students like Kisekka who received merit government scholarships. Kisekka’s test scores missed the mark for electrical engineering, but paved the way for a new path: agricultural engineering.
“I thank God I ended up as an agricultural engineer because I have found it to be a very fulfilling career: you do things that directly impact peoples’ livelihoods,” he says.
In place of a career focus on communication systems, computer design, instrumentation, or other electronic design, Kisekka employs technology in a much different way. Instead, he studies water management strategies and uses technology to improve productivity and profitability of water-limited cropping systems. His research resulted in advancements in innovations such as Mobile Drip Irrigation (MDI), a hybrid system that integrates drip irrigation with center pivot sprinkler irrigation. This type of work is essential, especially in the High Plains region, where declining levels of the Ogallala Aquifer mean more constrained water supplies for irrigation. His group also developed a dynamic model-driven decision support tool called iCrop; it optimizes water allocation, helps with irrigation scheduling, yield prediction, nitrogen management, climate change impact assessments, and profitability.
Kisekka’s research, based at K-State’s Southwest Research Extension Center in Garden City, directly affects the community: he partners with farmers to help them adopt sustainable water management strategies and technologies. This benefits the environment while still enhancing profitability and reducing farmers’ risk.
He has been doing this type of work since his university days. After receiving his B.Sc. in Agricultural Engineering from Makerere University in Uganda, Kisekka worked in the private sector for Balton Ltd. as an irrigation engineer. After this, he worked for the Ugandan government in the role of research officer for the National Agricultural Research Organization of Uganda. He left this position after three years to pursue his graduate studies in the United States, where he attended the University of Florida and received both his master’s degree and Ph.D. in agricultural engineering.
Kisekka counts himself “lucky” to have joined K-State’s Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering in 2013 as an assistant professor of irrigation and water management. “It’s a perfect fit for my career,” he says. And although his work here at K-State benefits regional farmers, he hopes to take his knowledge and someday apply it to agriculture in Uganda, where it could make a “positive impact.”