MasterCard Foundation Scholar, School of Molecular Sciences grad inspired to dream bigger

April 26, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Ntombizodwa Makuyana will be graduating in May from Arizona State University’s School of Molecular Sciences with a degree in medicinal biochemistry, but this is just the first degree she plans to receive as she has her sights set on pursuing her MD-PhD next. Makuyana wants to understand how the immune response fights against diseases and drug development to find new drug therapies, so she can contribute to making health care systems in Zimbabwe better when she returns. Ntombizodwa Makuyana Ntombizodwa Makuyana. Download Full Image

ASU is a long way from where Makuyana comes from in Zimbabwe, where women are not encouraged to get an education, but that isn’t stopping her from breaking the cycle. She is a MasterCard Foundation Scholar and through this support she has been able to realize her dreams and goals to get an education while discovering her passion for science.

She has worked with Karen Anderson, professor at the Biodesign Institute's Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics and the School of Life Sciences lab doing research to understand how the immune response can be used to detect and alter cancer development. 

“Ntombi’s project focused on making HPV viral proteins for a novel assay for cervical cancer detection. Protein production is sometimes an art form; it can be very difficult to make proteins in high yields that work,” said Anderson. “But, as a good scientist, she was persistent, and managed to get it to work.”

Makuyana has made the most of her time here at ASU and taken advantage of all it has to offer.

She managed to co-found a project in Zimbabwe — Female Dreamers — with her friend, Shantel Marekera, that aims to empower girls and women to be economically independent by providing them quality education and teaching them poultry-rearing skills. The initiative won several awards including the Changemaker Award at ASU in 2018, Venture Devils 2018, the Millennium Fellowship with United Nations award 2018, the Pitchfork Award 2019 for Global Change and Global Impact Project and was presented at the Clinton Global Initiative 2018.  

After graduation Makuyana is looking to the next chapter and continuing on to MD-PhD school. She answered some questions about her time here at ASU.

Q: How did your scholarship impact your education at ASU?

A: I am part of the MasterCard Foundation Scholars program; this has supported me financially and taught me the importance of giving back to the community. Because of MasterCard Foundation Scholars, I developed into a global leader with a vision to better the world.

Q: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? 

A: My “aha” moment was when l started research in Biodesign Institute in Dr. Anderson’s lab. Ever since childhood, I have always been interested in research, but at that time I did not know what research entails. I finally understood the connection between my major, medicinal chemistry, and research, especially when I was doing experiments in the lab: I could understand the concepts I was learning in class and apply them. I discovered my passion for science.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I learned to talk or share ideas whether or not they make sense. I used this concept and it has worked wonders in my life. I remember sharing my ideas with my friends (Shantel Marekera, Abdullah Abdullah, Mohammed Habbash, etc.) about ways we can bring an impact into the world. From being a “not making sense” idea, Female Dreamers became a reality with our friends' encouragement and support.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: ASU’s diversity and impeccable record of success in creating global leaders inspired me to be part of it. Being an international student can be difficult sometimes, especially coming to a place where people have different values, cultures and beliefs than yours. But, here at ASU, I never faced any of those difficulties. I felt welcomed and was made to be part of the family. Because of the diversity here at ASU, I interacted and engaged with people from diverse backgrounds on tackling the world's challenges. This also made me join ASU Global Guide program — a peer mentor program that helps international students develop strong interpersonal and intercultural communication skills by fostering new relationships with peers from different cultures so l could help other international students adjust to ASU. All these experiences helped to finally understand why ASU prides itself for its diversity and inclusion and “measures its success by whom it includes." I felt included and appreciated, and that’s a huge reason why l love ASU.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Dr. Karen S. Anderson and Dr. Mary Dawes were instrumental in my personal development. Growing up in a male-dominated community in Zimbabwe, it was a norm that women were supposed to be trained to be better wives; it, unfortunately, would not exceed that point. The idea never resonated within me; and when I met these two amazing women doing amazing projects, l was inspired to dream bigger and exceed expectations. Their unparalleled one-on-one mentoring helped me to shatter the glass ceilings and aim for the horizon. These women’s unwavering support challenged me to extend the same act of kindness to girls in my community to break free from the labels that confine them to nowhere beyond the kitchen door and instead define their own lives.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Advice: “Be yourself.” I used to compare myself with others, but l have learned that everyone is different. We have different personalities, dreams and ambitions. Strive to be a better version of yourself and utilize every moment you have — talk to professors, make connections and expand your network.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite place is by the Memorial Union — the fireplace. I just love to sit and reflect or de-stress on life. As l watch other students walking by, it reminds me that I am not alone in this life. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am most likely to go to school for my MD-PhD. This is because there are few physician scientists in developing countries like Zimbabwe. The MD-PhD program will help me connect research discoveries into clinical settings which will be instrumental for my vision of finding new drug therapies. My overall goal is to gain an understanding on how immune systems fight against diseases and drug development.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Since my personal interests are rooted in my desire to improve others’ health, l will be more likely to channel the money to improving the health care system in developing countries. This is because l have seen many people forego treatments because they cannot afford them and also the fact that medical care is offered based on the person’s income level. My hope is for everyone to have access to health care despite their financial background because “medical care is a right.”


Media Relations and Marketing Manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration


Microbiology student discovers power of mind and meditation during academic journey

April 26, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Isaiah Sampson has had his sights set on a career in dentistry since he was a teenager. And while many students change their direction over the years, Sampson has held his focus and made calculated decisions to achieve his goals. Isaiah Sampson Isaiah Sampson will graduate with his bachelor's degree in microbiology and a minor in music this May. Download Full Image

The graduating senior, who will receive his bachelor’s degree in microbiology from the School of Life Sciences along with a minor in music this May, credits meditation for allowing him to stay on track.

“I’ve generally been focused but it hasn’t been as laser-like until I started meditating and that really gave a true grasp of the power your mind actually has,” he said. “Freshman year I wasn’t able to go to the Ignite Camp so I went to Spark and Scot Schoenborn held a breakout session about meditation. That was my first semester, freshman year and I’ve loved it ever since.” 

Meditation, combined with an “almost militaristic schedule” of alarms, has allowed Sampson to stay on top of the many university initiatives he’s involved in, including assisting with orientation, mentoring students and fellow mentors, working as a TA, conducting research in the social insect research group and volunteering at Ryan House through Hospice of the Valley, just to name a few.

“Your energy, how you set your mind and how you think is really important in what you’ll be able to achieve,” Sampson said. “If you set your mind and your preparations, your results are going to be a lot different than if you coast through things.”

Outside of the opportunities and resources found within Arizona State University and The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Sampson said he found an environment that welcomed and supported diversity.

“If you feel as if empathy is something missing from the world, you should go to ASU because not only is the mission to include, the diversity is something that runs through this place seamlessly,” he said. “You encounter people from all types of backgrounds, you grow in the empathy you have and the understanding of other people's cultures. It is really a place where you grow a love for people because there are so many different relationships you create, and with these, you are able to understand the struggles of many different demographics. This is crucial in trying to create a world of cohesion.”

Sampson answered some questions about his time at ASU and shared what he has planned next.

Q: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? 

A: I first got interested in the dental field when I was about 14 and then seriously put together the steps to accomplish that at 16. It was based on experiences my mom had with her dental health, and when I was younger, my sister got her tooth knocked out. Seeing how dental health affects people, that created a clear image that that was what I wanted to do. Since I knew there was a lot of science behind it, I figured I should study something that is interesting and applies to the field I’m going in.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: Since ASU is so diverse you encounter a bunch of people from different backgrounds. … Seeing how we can connect with people and how that grows empathy and grows how we see the world was a thing I hadn’t really encountered. ASU is as diverse as it gets.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I came to ASU as an out-of-state student. What drew me to this school was that there were so many majors and it seemed as if the resources were endless. After I came to this institution, this idea was confirmed as I was able to see the many places to get involved and resources available. I was able to be an orientation leader, a TA for general biology, have a position in a research lab, be a facilitator — among other mentoring positions.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Christian Wright, he was my professor for BIO 281. He really solidified the idea of being cognizant of what you’re doing, being metacognitive in what you’re learning and — from a teaching aspect since I was interested in that — he taught me about self-evaluation and using the data you get from the results of students to better yourself as an educator. That made me grow great respect for him since he was always self-reflective with every exam, getting the results back, seeing what he could have done better, seeing what he could have communicated better and seeing how to test students better. It was really inspiring especially considering that in the future, I do want to go into academia. It was really cool to see a professor that cares so much about the students to such a high degree.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: It’s dependent on what you want to go into, but as a broad statement, take what you’re getting involved in seriously and strategically. So if you’re set on one thing, make sure you are doing things that are contributing to a narrative that will be applicable to the field you’re going into.

Q: Is there an achievement or contribution that you are most proud of?

A: The achievement I am most proud of is being able to serve as the undergraduate representative on the School of Life Sciences Advisory Committee. This was something I was very happy about, not only because I was selected by faculty, but because it gave me a chance to actually give input into what this school should do based on student experiences. Being able to be in those meetings, and being unafraid to voice my opinions and share ideas among faculty, the dean of natural sciences (Nancy Gonzales) and other leadership within The College was a great opportunity. It felt incredible to actually see them take my input into consideration and to see the final product of what we came up with. Being able to identify what I contributed in the final write up of the process felt insane as these are things that will actually come to fruition. I am glad that the students are able to get a voice that is listened to rather than just heard.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: The biology learning resource center. There was always a seat available and the people that worked there were always so nice, and we’d have great discussions about many things. It became a hub for students to connect. Now that I work there as a tutor, it’s cool to see how that translates on both sides.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’m enrolled in UCLA School of Dentistry so that’s where I’ll be going starting in September.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Inner city and urban education systems, specifically in underprivileged communities. Being able to increase the education and the engagement of underrepresented groups within STEM and being able to increase resources with those groups to try and help out the transition and increase the underrepresented groups in STEM specifically. I’m a black male in STEM and I’m usually the only one in the class that looks like me and I think that’s definitely something that should be helped out.

Kirsten Kraklio

Content Strategist and Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences