Lander University junior Bongwe Ngwenyama, a chemistry pre-med major, says that her favorite job on campus has been working as a lab technician in Lander’s organic chemistry lab, where she is able to help set the table for learning by preparing chemicals and other equipment that her fellow students will need for their lab classes. “I love being in the lab,” she said, adding that this experience has taught her “valuable lessons that will come in handy in my career as a chemist.”
But working inside the laboratory isn’t the only way that Ngwenyama has served the Lander community. In previous semesters, she worked as a chemistry tutor for Lander’s Academic Success Center—an opportunity that she describes as both challenging and rewarding. “I love being able to help students understand something,” Ngwenyama said, “and I always hope that my enthusiasm for chemistry will be infectious enough to make them want to learn it more.” Ngwenyama said that understanding chemistry begins with having a love of chemistry, and that she saw her role as a tutor as sparking a love for chemistry within her classmates.
Tutoring is a big responsibility. On top studying for their own coursework, student tutors tailor their sessions with unique learning experiences specific to each individual student and their needs. While recognizing that this balance between studying and tutoring was challenging, Ngwenyama insists that her time as a tutor was also rewarding “because it kept my mind fresh of the material that I learned in previous semesters, while also sharpening my skills of scientific communication.”
Ngwenyama is an international student, originally hailing from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. “My native language is Ndebele,” she said, “and I can speak several other languages spoken in southern Africa.” Before Lander, Ngwenyama had the opportunity to fall in love with chemistry and medicine for herself while working in a small clinic in her neighborhood, where she shadowed a local doctor and sat in on appointments with patients. “I also helped the nurses and medical assistants with collecting patient information and filing,” she added, while noting that working in a professional environment and interacting with real patients and medical staff further enhanced her communication skills.
She also worked as a youth coordinator for Million Memory Project Zimbabwe, a non-profit organization that cares for the needs of young people living with HIV. “My job was to increase HIV awareness to youths in low-SES Zimbabwean communities,” she said, calling this experience her most inspiring one yet. “I learned a great deal about resilience and hope from all the young people that I worked with.”
Recently, Ngwenyama has had the chance to take her Lander education cross country, by conducting research with the University of Washington in Seattle. Last summer, she worked with the Pfaendtner research group to perform molecular dynamic simulations, using a number of software packages and computer programs to create simulation molecules that would “behave like they would in real life.”
Ngwenyama later presented her research at the Computational Molecular Science and Engineering Forum’s 2021 Symposium, which also featured scholars from other colleges involved in computational molecular engineering, including Johns Hopkins University, Clemson University and Northwestern University. Ngwenyama said she enjoyed working at the University of Washington, and that she is still working on her research there as an extern.
Ngwenyama says these experiences at Lander—both in the classroom and having the chance to work closely within her future career field—have opened her eyes to the wide range of opportunities that will await her upon graduation. And, when asked to describe Lander University in a single word, Ngwenyama chose “empowering.”
“I believe that Lander has been a place where I have been able to grow as an individual,” she said. “I now believe my dreams are valid and possible, and I see a clearer path to achieving them.”