Lyela Mutisya '17

In 2014, Lyela traveled back to Kenya to visit her family after not being home for 14 years. While there, she learned about the labor that goes into being a coffee farmer. She also learned how poorly her father was compensated, along with other coffee farmers, for all of their hard work. Lyela made a promise to her father that she would find a way, no matter how difficult, to help get his coffee to the United States.

Photo caption: Lyela Mutisya is a senior studying Aviation Administration with a minor in Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) at Lewis University. Aside from school projects and homework, she also works at the Chicago Helicopter Experience as a Passenger Coordinator.

Shortly after returning, Lyela began her very own coffee company in Chicago - Kahawa Yetu, Inc. - which is a Swahili term that translates to “Our Coffee”.  In her first year, she was able to contract nearly 250 bags of coffee from Kenya. Lyela grew her business as she continued enrolling in classes, one of her favorites being a course in Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). Inspired by a lesson in precision agriculture, Lyela finally knew what she had to do to help her father’s coffee business.

Using her knowledge of coffee and drawing from her experiences, she could utilize UAS to improve the efficiency of coffee farming. After some initial research, Lyela realized this idea could also increase production, decrease fertilizer expenses, and improve the quality of both the coffee itself and compensation for coffee farmers in Africa.

As a recent entrepreneur, Lyela was given the opportunity to attend the Drone World Expo in California in November 2015 free of charge. This is where she met Robert Blaire, a pioneer of precision agriculture and a personal mentor who continuously encourages her to pursue her dream.  “Robert has always motivated me to learn new skills and work hard to make my dreams come true,” said Lyela.

After the Expo, Lyela worked hard to continue researching and develop a plan. A year later in 2016, she attended the Expo for a second time where she did some professional networking with a company based out of Washington that offered her an internship and expressed interest in sponsoring her research after graduation. Lyela recently received a drone and two sensors from them, which is exactly what she will need to begin researching after she obtains her remote pilot airman certificate to operate controls of a small UAS under Part 107.   

Several obstacles lie ahead for Lyela, but she is determined to keep the promise she made to her father. “There is a lot of work that still needs to be done,” Lyela says. “As a woman moving forward in a male dominated industry, I have to stay smart and strong every step of the way.”

Lyela is confident that Lewis University has provided her with the knowledge and experiences necessary to take these ideas to the next level. “I took so many amazing courses and met so many helpful professors, which without, I probably would have never thought of this solution to help my father.”

“The notable reputation for the Aviation & Transportation Department and generous scholarships are the main reason I attended Lewis, but in retrospect, I have learned that Lewis had much more to offer. It provided me with the knowledge necessary to succeed and skill set from which I can draw on in my future career,” she adds.

Lyela is eager to begin putting everything she has learned to good use, to improve life for not only her family but the entire continent of Africa. She plans to use a portion of her profit to support the Air Shepherd Initiative, a program of the Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation that is dedicated to using technology, such as UAS, to balance the effects of human development on the environment and protect wildlife in Africa.

After graduating from Lewis, Lyela plans to begin the research by the end of 2017 with her father who stayed in Kenya after Lyela and her family moved to America almost 15 years ago. He has worked as a coffee farmer for over 30 years and also sells land on the side. “My dad has been so supportive throughout this entire process,” says Lyela. “He always offers his help in connecting me to the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority and also in protecting me from people who may try to take advantage my innovative ideas.”

In her spare time, Lyela enjoys flying drones and traveling with her family. She also loves to attend cupping sessions where she learns coffee tasting techniques to assess flavors and aromas of coffee from around the world.

*Top photo and bottom photo by Lewis University student Mervyn John.

January 2017

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