Reflections from a Zimbabwean Grace Scholar: Munashe Mugonda
The Grace Scholarship Program is the result of a partnership between PVF and a donor to provide the critical gap funding necessary for bright, low-income Zimbabwean students who are a part of the US Achievers Program (USAP) to study at US and European universities. We interviewed a few of the Grace Scholars to learn more about their background, experiences in college, and plans for the future. Below is our interview with Munashe Mugonda, a fourth-year student studying Applied Mathematics and Computer Science at Franklin College in Indiana.
Tell us about your decision to study outside of your home country.
Since I was little, I had a passion to grow beyond what I could fathom, a passion to explore how much talent I could develop. I knew deep inside that if I could find the best education, resources, support, and exposure, I would be set for greater success to lead the change that my country needed.
Sibusisiwe Mukwakwami, who later became my USAP sister, invited me to her room at St. Augustine’s High School and invited me to apply for the USAP program. She told me that it would be a great opportunity for me, and she believed that I could make it. I didn’t question her judgment in any way. Neither did I hesitate to send in my application.
Fortunately, I was accepted into the program. The more I learned about education in the United States, the more I fell in love with it. I could see my dream come true. Even though I failed to get a full scholarship the first year, I never gave up. My father asked me why I was taking such a risk to take a gap year and suspend my Joshua Nkomo Scholarship to go to the University of Zimbabwe. He didn’t want me to leave my home country. My answer was, “Dad, I am leaving so that I can come back. If there was no reason to come back home, I wouldn’t be leaving.” I chose to study abroad so that one day, I could return, fully equipped to be part of the economic, social, and political progression of Zimbabwe.
Was it difficult transitioning to a different culture?
Transitioning into American southern culture was very difficult but
doable through the support of Dr. Edward Chikwana (a Franklin College chemistry professor from Zimbabwe), the Franklin College support system, and Stephanie Agba (my USAP sister from Nigeria). I was also fortunate enough to be surrounded by people with so much love who invited me to their homes for the holidays and during school breaks. Even though my transition was smooth, there were times that I couldn’t fit in. Most of my peers grew up in small towns where there are few to no black people, let alone from another country. Some of them were afraid to connect with me, but some were friendly enough to give us a chance to connect, learn from each other, acknowledge our differences, accept them, and go through college together.
What types of activities are you involved in at school?
I have recently been selected to join our School President’s Ambassador Corps, accompanying the President at his meetings and dinners with trustees, board members, donors, etc. Beforehand, I was involved in Track and Field and the Religious Life team, where we would go to American Baptist churches around Franklin, Indiana to sing as part of the praise and worship team. During spring breaks, I joined them for trips around the U.S. to learn about how people of different faiths fulfill community needs like sustainability and civil rights. I was also part of the Student Ambassadors during my sophomore year, and I was a Diversity Advocate during my junior year. I had a great time in all the activities I was involved in. Each one gave me the opportunity to learn about Franklin College from different angles and to grow in a well-rounded way.
What is your greatest accomplishment at school thus far?
One of my greatest achievements was being the best freshman of the year 2015-2016 at Franklin College. The Laurels Award is given to one female freshman for their academic and community achievement every year. I was so proud of myself for rising beyond measure and being recognized as a model freshman.
What do you plan to do post-graduation?
I am planning to work for a year and to get more hands-on experience in the technical field before advancing my career with a Masters/PhD. It is my priority to obtain a more managerial and entrepreneurial role so that I can fulfill my dream of driving change back home in Zimbabwe and Africa at large. I would love to include a global perspective as I advance through my career.
How has the Grace Scholarship helped you pursue your goals?
The Grace Scholarship has been one of the most unaccountable blessings I have received going into college. Without it, I wouldn’t have made it to Franklin College, which offers a full tuition scholarship to international students but does not cover room and board. I had to find a way to cover these expenses, and my family was not in any financial position to bridge the gap. Through the Grace Scholarship, I am still at Franklin and entering my fourth year, ready to graduate with a double major in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science.