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Leadership, community involvement and global action were the hallmarks of honors graduate’s experience

Primrose Dzenga

Primrose Dzenga graduated ASU this week with bachelor’s degrees in global studies and creative writing with honors from Barrett, the Honors College and a master’s degree in political science. She will remain at ASU to pursue a PhD in the Innovation in Global Development program.

May 18, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Primrose Dzenga knows that combatting food insecurity and poverty is key to building resilient communities, and she spent much of her time as an undergraduate at Arizona State University working on a project aimed at this endeavor.

Dzenga graduated ASU this week with bachelor’s degrees in global studies and creative writing with honors from Barrett, the Honors College and a master’s degree in political science. She came to ASU after receiving an associate degree with honors from Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona.

She founded and has directed for the last four years the Machikichori Citrus Reforestation Project in her birthplace of rural Wedza, Zimbabwe. The project is a 12,000-tree community orange orchard run by women.

The aim of the project is to create an income source for people in the community and help alleviate malnutrition and extreme poverty. In addition to producing a marketable crop, the project focuses on dropping the mortality rate of children younger than 5 years old and counteracting global warming through reforestation and environmental rejuvenation.

Last year, Dzenga won a $10,000 Barrett Global Explorers Grant, which she used to travel to three continents to research citrus farming techniques. Her worldwide research was part of the work she did for her honors thesis.

For her academic achievement and community service, Dzenga received several scholarships and awards throughout her undergraduate career, including the ASU President’s Club Award, the School of Politics and Global Studies Director’s Achievement Award, the ASU Foundation Award, the ASU Sun Devil Family Association Scholarship, the Garcia Family Foundation Scholarship, the Lincoln Foundation Scholarship and the Live Your Dream Award. She also participated in the Clinton Global Initiative University Commitment to Action in 2020.

In 2019, she won the Desert Nights, Rising Stars Conference Writing Award. She was named the 2020 Barrett Honors College Outstanding Graduate for Leadership for her work with the Machikichori Citrus Reforestation Project.

Dzenga is a talented author and poet, whose work has been published in Ireland by Salmon Poetry in the anthology "Poetry: Reading It, Writing It, Publishing It," edited by Jessie Lindernie. Dzenga’s nonfiction novel "The Unsung Heroine — Auxillia Chimusoro," about an African AIDs activist, was published by the Zimbabwe Women Writers in 2009 with a grant from the Culture Fund of Zimbabwe.

She also is a performance poet who has read and performed her work at international festivals. Her poem, "The Unsung Heroine — A Tribute to Auxillia Chimusoro," appeared on the U.S. Embassy—Harare website. "Destiny in My Hands," her first full poetry collection, deals with issues of identity and rights and human relationships. She is a recipient of the Zimbabwe National Arts Literary Award for her poetry and nonfiction writing. 

We asked Dzenga to reflect on her time as an undergraduate at ASU. 

Question: What was an interesting moment, story or accomplishment in your ASU career?

Answer: Being awarded the Barrett Global Explorers Grant to research best practices in citrus farming and conservation across five countries and three continents was humbling for me. Not least because I was a transfer student, but with this grant, I would be able to work on a project which is a model framework for agroforestry in southern Africa to reduce multidimensional poverty, hunger and under-5 mortality (among children) in sub-Saharan Africa. With this grant I could marry education and purpose in a way that served more women than just me.

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

A: As an award-winning author and poet, I wanted to study creative writing to tell the stories of ordinary women who are phenomenal heroines, like Auxillia Chimusoro, and write poetry to heal my soul. When I started working on this community service project with rural women in Zimbabwe, which had the potential to bring in over $500,000 a year in revenue, I was inspired by the women’s drive, resolve and initiative. I was, however, immensely underqualified to implement, complete and replicate a project of that scope and magnitude. I realized I needed an education that would equip me with the competencies necessary to respond to a multidimensional problem like poverty and the aspects of life it impacts, like mortality in children under 5 years old.

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

A: When I worked on the Barrett@30 project to preserve the history of Barrett Honors College for posterity, I had the honor to interview ASU President Michael Crow. During this interview he said that one does not find time, they make time for the things they love. I have found this to be true as I have balanced coursework and working on a project which is located halfway across the world and with a time difference of nine hours ahead.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: During my site visit when I was still a Pima Community College student, I told Barrett Honors College Dean Mark Jacobs that I was looking for a four-year institution that would help and equip me with competencies necessary to work effectively with underserved women. One that I would use to create a platform from which they would be an integral part of the sustainable development dialogue, and he said to me, “We can do that.” And he was right.

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

A: I have been so fortunate and privileged at ASU. Dr. Nilanjana Bhattacharjya, my History of Ideas instructor at Barrett Honors College, taught me the importance diverse civil discourse. Dr. Glenn Sheriff in the School of Politics and Global Studies taught me the importance of conscientiousness, and Dr. Jide James-Eluyode taught me the that empathy is the cornerstone of meaningful development work, while Professor T.M. McNally taught me the importance of kindness. I am a work that has been molded by several generous and kind hands at ASU, and I am grateful.

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

A: Ask for help. Especially in Barrett, where (Senior Associate Dean for Student Services) Dean Kristen Hermann’s and Vice Dean Nicola Foote’s doors — as well as everyone else’s, for that matter — are always open and they are willing to listen and help, because you can’t do it on your own.

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

A: I love the Hayden Library. Books give me a sense of calm.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am so grateful and humbled to have been accepted into the ASU Innovation in Global Development PhD program. I am excited and looking forward to furthering my work with women in rural communities and researching the impact of agronomic interventions on income and health outcomes.

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

A: World hunger. I would use that money to further my research in rural agroforestry, which is a model framework for impactful and sustainable ways to grow food with low-income rural communities. Food is magic, food impacts every aspect of the human condition and sometimes food is all the medicine that people need. I do not believe we can eradicate poverty without eradicating hunger.

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