Living 8,000 miles from his family in Harare, Zimbabwe, Nathan Mugande has become immersed in South Carolina’s life and culture as he’s charted his own course of success at Lander University.
Talking to Mugande is one of those rare experiences in which a person senses this student is destined for achievements beyond our comprehension. He has a love for gaming; yet, he spends hours in Lander’s chemistry labs deep in research with faculty members and helping other students with their experiments. His academic achievements have placed him on the prestigious President’s List since his first semester, and he is on track to graduate in 2024 with a bachelor’s degree and MBA.
The decision to merge two intense areas of study might give many people pause. Yet Mugande, a junior who is pursuing a double major in chemistry and biology, has pushed forward without hesitation.
“Medical care is a patient- and business-centered profession. Medicine is a practice to care for people, but there is a business side as well,” he said. “You want to make decisions that will benefit patients, of course, as well as health care providers and investors.”
With his senior year just months away, Mugande is already looking ahead to studying at U.S. medical schools that would allow him to earn medical and doctoral degrees concurrently. He would like to be a physician-scientist in the field of neurological surgery. “I want to be able to treat patients and conduct effective research,” he said. “I feel like the hard work is worth it to live a life that you enjoy the most.”
Mugande came to Lander through a scholarship from the Dr. Douglas and Mrs. Jean Mufuka Scholars program. He had seen the University only online before arriving in August 2020, and he wasted no time getting to know the campus and all that it had to offer.
With his easygoing demeanor and joyous smile, it’s no wonder that Mugande became a Presidential Ambassador during his freshman year. The opportunity to meet future students and their parents on campus tours gave him a chance to learn about his new home and its people.
“I love the diversity of the United States,” he said. “Zimbabwe is not very diverse. The United States really is a melting pot, not only of people, but of many different ideas.”
His love for that diversity has extended to a radio show that he developed for XLR-Lander Radio. During the 8 p.m. Monday program, Lander University and Beyond, Mugande interviews international students and features music from their countries.
When he was crowned Mr. Lander last year, Mugande used the popular physics effect, called Bernoulli’s principle, for his talent. The dramatic presentation, which produced a huge puff of smoke across the stage, showcased how objects heavier than air can fly. Named for an 18th-century scientist, Daniel Bernoulli, the principle is important in understanding fluid dynamics.
The talent choice wasn’t a surprise to anyone who knows Mugande. “Science has been my talent for a long time; hence, what I would do in front of people wasn’t unexpected,” he explained.
What was unexpected, perhaps, was his precision at showing the wonder of science and winning over a panel of judges with his skill. As a chemistry lab assistant, Mugande spends hours every week setting up the equipment that students will need to conduct their lab experiments.
That experience has helped him become a better student. “Wherever chemistry is involved, I like to be a part of it. Working in the labs helps me perfect my skills. I have a better understanding of the instruments and the techniques of how to use them.”
Dr. David Slimmer, dean of the College of Science & Mathematics, worked with Mugande to develop his talent for the competition and then asked him to assist with the STEAM Festival, an outdoor celebration of science, technology, engineering, the arts and math for students in the Lakelands.
“Nathan jumped on the opportunity right away. There were a lot of people at different times,” Slimmer said. “Nathan went right to work with the demonstrations. He really won over the children, and they loved talking to him.”
Away from the stage, Mugande is working on a research project with Dr. Lisa Brodhacker, a Lander chemistry professor, to make a new compound that will help with the thermal expansion of epoxy telescope mirrors.
“If successful, this will improve the quality of the images that the telescope mirrors produce,” said Brodhacker. “Nathan brings so much natural curiosity to the research project. It’s students like him who end up making discoveries that I would have never considered. This makes my job so much fun.”
The breadth of experiences provided by Lander has far exceeded the expectations Mugande had when he was still in his native country of Zimbabwe.
“Growing up in Zimbabwe, a scholarship like the Mufuka Scholarship is something I could only dream of. It’s an opportunity that has changed my life unimaginably,” he said. “I had set specific goals for my life, and I had an idea of who I wanted to be, but Lander proved me wrong. Lander has shown me that I was making myself mediocre, and I can be twice as much as I ever imagined. At Lander, I have learned to pursue incredible things.”
Slimmer has high praise for Mugande, a member of Lander’s chapter of the American Chemical Society. “He is going to be very successful. The question is ‘where will he stop?’ He is involved in so many different things on campus. It is just astounding. I would consider him the ideal student, not only because of his grades but because of his demeanor. He is very respectful toward professors and other students, and he is always willing to help.”
And Mugande, who recently was named a student liaison for Lander’s new Office of Student Experience and Quality Assurance, had high praise for his University. “You will get opportunities that are bigger than Lander from Lander.”
This story is featured in the Spring 2023 edition of Lander Magazine. Read more at www.lander.edu/magazine.