Scholars reflect on their experiences and the future ahead
The King-Morgridge Scholars program, which was made possible through the generosity of the King and Morgridge families, endows six scholarships each year to enterprising, creative young adults committed to poverty alleviation. Participants are selected from countries in Africa, Latin America, South and Southeast Asia, and the Caribbean.
Four years ago, the first cohort of King-Morgridge Scholars arrived at UW–Madison intent on pursuing degrees and experiences that would ultimately benefit their home countries. Now, as the first four scholars prepare to graduate, they reflect on opportunities, challenges, what meant the most to them about being part of the program and the UW–Madison community, and of course, what they see as they look toward the future.
Miranda Tichareva, community and nonprofit leadership and psychology, Zimbabwe
Miranda Tichareva came to UW–Madison planning to study business and real estate but found herself drawn to an entirely different path—community and nonprofit leadership (CNPL). She knows that to some the choice might seem puzzling, especially when medicine, engineering, law, and other fields are more lucrative. However, Tichareva’s goal is not to bring money home to Zimbabwe, but rather the tools to enact social change.
“Being a CNPL major has opened the way for me to know what to do with this passion I have,” said Tichareva, who also majored in psychology. “I grew this passion for the non-profit world that I’d seen but didn’t know what to do with it or where to go with it.”
Through the CNLP major, Tichareva learned about the operations of nonprofits and how they create change in communities locally and worldwide. She also found opportunity to work firsthand with a nonprofit organization through an internship with the Madison Children’s Museum (MCM) and Play Africa in Johannesburg offered through the International Internship Program.
During this 9-month internship, Tichareva interned at MCM, leading a program that teaches children about the differences and similarities between the American and African cultures. It also gave her an opportunity to shadow various roles at the museum while learning more about the operations side of the organization. She then brought that experience to Play Africa in Johannesburg—a South African non-profit dedicated to creating safe and inspiring learning spaces for children. As an intern with Play Africa, she learned the inner workings of an NGO and interacted with children and families.
“At Play Africa, I taught staff a lot about what we do at MCM, and they taught me a lot about how they operate,” said Tichareva. “It was a cultural exchange that I really loved being involved in. Spending time with children, I was able to put my psychology knowledge to use because I have taken a lot of child psychology classes. Plus, I got hands-on experience with non-profit boards and non-profit missions—both which I was learning in the School of Human Ecology. So, this internship was a perfect fit given both of my majors.”
Her enthusiasm for involvement and change has garnered several honors from the School of Human Ecology. Tichareva was named the School of Human Ecology Outstanding Graduating Senior and recipient of the Rosalie Amlie Morton Scholarship, named for the alumna who created a legacy of forging her own path and instilling a love of learning in those around her.
Following graduation, Tichareva plans to attend the University of Wisconsin Law School.
“I’m going to focus on estate planning and family law just because I feel like it speaks to me so much,” said Tichareva. “I want to work with kids, and I want to handle child cases. I want to be able to work with families to bring solidarity and see if I can do something to help them in hard times. So, I really feel like that specialization fits me.”
In the future, she hopes that she can create an organization that helps communities in Zimbabwe gain better access to education and career opportunities abroad, while conveying that you can obtain the knowledge and experience you need elsewhere if you can’t find it at home. It is a lesson and idea inspired in part by the Kings and Morgridges and a way to meet her true goal of bringing change home to her community.
“Going through all the four years, I realize that the Morgridges, the Kings, the whole King-Morgridge team, and all of the faculty and staff I’ve worked with have made this experience so easy for me and drove the passion and cleared the path for me in a way that made me realize that attending UW–Madison as a King-Morgridge Scholar is the best decision I have ever made. I don’t think I’m ever going to make a decision in my life better than this one.”
Chumani Mokoena, nuclear engineering, South Africa
Chumani Mokoena’s time as a King-Morgridge Scholar can be characterized as one that exemplified strength, growth, and resilience. As he prepares to leave UW–Madison, Mokoena reflects on bright spots and challenges over the past four years. The journey was not always easy. Being on campus and dealing with feelings of isolation, enduring being a person of color in a prominently white region, and the loss of and separation from family back home added layers of challenge not encountered by most.
Fortunately, Mokoena was able to overcome the obstacles through resilience and the help of friends, faculty, and a supportive family back home.
Upon graduating from UW–Madison, the nuclear engineering major will carry with him some incredible accomplishments and plans for the future. From founding a startup technology company that could change the way people across Africa access healthcare to a career in energy innovation, Mokoena is looking toward the future, while keeping himself grounded in his goal to eventually bring his lessons and experiences back home.
“I want to benefit my country,” Mokoena said. “So, it’s all about learning everything I can here and going back and implementing. This includes using my connections in the U.S. and trying to get them to help me further and develop my country as well. I feel a lot of people that leave India, Africa, and other places never go back, and they ultimately shine in the U.S.”
Mokoena has positioned his work and research to be of future benefit to Africa. He founded Imhotech Solutions alongside fellow King-Morgridge Scholar Cheryl Mulor and graduating senior Yasmine Abdennadher. They hope Imhotech can eventually modernize medical keeping systems throughout Africa. The group has teamed up with developers who are now partners on the project. They have acquired funding to develop a prototype and have sought an advisor who is a practicing medical doctor.
“I’m proud to say my two female co-founders are of African descent themselves,” Mokoena said. “We encompass a range of experiences but also different sets of expertise. What is interesting is that none of us are developers—they’re also engineers, but it’s not deterred us from trying to solve an everyday problem.”
According to Mokoena, there are several issues with healthcare in Africa, including inadequate funding, lack of equality in access, and loss of human capital to other countries that are able to compensate doctors and nurses at substantially higher levels. Another issue is medical records that are missing, destroyed, incomplete, or unavailable—this is an issue for which Mokoena sees solutions.
Mokoena outlined a common situation where if a person needs to go to the hospital, they would need to open an entirely new medical record case file because it would take too long to post or mail. However, if doctors and patients were able to access records electronically, regardless of location, speed and accuracy in providing medical services would be greatly enhanced.
“I think that maternal health is the backbone of any country’s healthcare system,” Mokoena said. “It forms the basis of a healthy and thriving population its children, and current and future mothers are well cared for by the system in which they are eventually going to contribute via their taxes.”
While working on Imhotech outside of the classroom, Mokoena continued to focus on his nuclear engineering major, considering the impact that innovation in the energy sector could also create lasting change through combating energy shortages.
“It’s an industry in which we need quite a lot of innovation,” Mokoena said. “I’m a nuclear proponent, and I think it’s the most complicated energy system to pursue. To work yourself up in this world as a nuclear engineer you have to be competent in chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering as well.”
As he advanced in the College of Engineering, Mokoena found a valuable supporter and mentor Professor Emeritus Michael Corradini, an expert in mechanical and nuclear engineering.
“There’s few mentors as good as Professor Corradini,” said Mokoena. “He is a premier nuclear safety expert in the world, but he is just so understanding of you and so responsive to the student and really takes time to try and learn about you as a student and your background. I felt blessed with my experience.”
It was through the support of Corradini that Mokoena applied for and was selected for a prestigious internship at Idaho National Laboratory. Corradini also encouraged Mokoena to pursue his graduate studies in nuclear engineering at MIT, where he was accepted and will attend in the fall on a full scholarship.
“The kinds of things that have come out of MIT and the level of intellect in terms of the things that afforded humanity, are often taken for granted,” Mokoena said. “I think being there and walking the same halls as scientists who have created things that have changed the world for better or for worse, is something I simply just could not pass up.”
He remains grateful for this support and to the Kings and Morgridges, who made the opportunity possible.
“When someone sponsored my education in South Africa, I got to go to an international school—an American international school. From there, I was able to dream about going to the U.S., and it finally happened. Now, I get to go to a school that I didn’t think I’d go to, and that is not to say that I didn’t put in the work I did. I think it’s that the opportunity would otherwise never have been there had it not been for a few individuals who felt like they wanted to do something for those that don’t necessarily have the means to do it themselves. I am really grateful to those two families in particular.”
Cheryl Mulor, civil and environmental engineering, Kenya
Cheryl Mulor, civil and environmental engineering, seeks to better the world around her. Whether she is tutoring fellow students or looking toward a future where she creates new buildings and infrastructure, Mulor seeks possibilities and encourages others to do the same.
That attitude may best explain her interest in engineering. Growing up in a small, rural town in western Kenya, it was typical for her to see underdeveloped infrastructure. But where many would simply see what is, she began thinking about what could be.
“Seeing that, I began imagining what civil engineering is about, and that drove me to pursue it,” Mulor said. “I thought that by studying this that maybe I will be able to come back here one day and design roads and buildings. I hope that still happens one day, but I still hope that I’m able to, in some way, give back to my community, whether through that or another program.”
When considering universities for her undergraduate studies, Mulor had several to choose from. But ultimately the reputation of the School of Engineering and opportunity to join the first cohort of King-Morgridge Scholars led her to decide on UW–Madison. Looking back on that decision as she prepares to graduate, she knows she made the right choice.
“I have come to greatly appreciate that decision ever since I came here, because of how the engineering program is structured, and how intimately we get to know our sponsors. That is something I really appreciate, that someone who is giving this huge generous gift for you to attend an institution like this still takes the time out of their schedule to get to know you personally.”
Taking classes in the College of Engineering affirmed her choice to pursue civil engineering. Mulor relished the coursework, interacting with faculty, and researching the field. She even sought first-hand experience through a summer internship during her sophomore year as a project intern at CG Schmidt, where she worked under the guidance of a project manager who was working on seven different remodeling projects.
Additionally, Mulor found outlets for her desire to teach and share knowledge. Having tutored elementary school students and her siblings while a high school student, she was eager to continue in Madison. During her first semester she volunteered as a math tutor at East High School through the Morgridge Center for Public Service. Following this, she became a tutor for the Undergraduate Learning Center in the College of Engineering, helping fellow students understand and apply concepts she had already learned in her courses. For Mulor, tutoring was primarily an outlet for something she genuinely loves doing, but she noted additional benefits.
“Tutoring was also a way for me to keep the content that I had learned in those early classes fresh in my mind,” Mulor said. “Being able to teach that class, keeping it fresh in my brain, and of course, being able to help other students who were struggling with their classes and needed a little bit of assistance to get to where they wanted to.”
Following graduation, Mulor will enroll at Stanford University, which she toured while visiting the Morgridges. Mulor has been selected as a recipient of the prestigious Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program, which will support her continuing studies on sustainable design and construction.
Beyond Stanford, Mulor hopes to see several goals come to fruition. She still plans to be a part of Imhotech, a medical documentation technology startup founded alongside Chumani Mokoena, knowing the profound impact it could have to increase access to healthcare in Africa. She also hopes to one day start her own construction company in Kenya, through which she can build and improve much needed infrastructure.
In the meantime, she continues to take advantage of every opportunity that comes her way and hopes fellow students and future King-Morgridge scholars will do the same.
“To future King-Morgridge scholars and students, go for whatever you want to do,” Mulor said. “It’s kind of limitless for all of us. Whatever you think you want to do, however unachievable it might seem, you never really know until you try it. I think I’ve learned that this last year.”
Lusayo Mwakatika, agricultural business management, Malawi
If you attended UW–Madison during the past four years, you likely have heard of Lusayo Mwakatika. The agricultural business management major from Malawi launched himself into the campus community, having participated in groups and programs such as BRIDGE, the African Students Association, Wisconsin Speech and Debate, Project Malawi, Agriculture Business Students Association, as well as working with Mandela Washington Fellows. If any of his fellow graduating undergraduates haven’t met him yet, they will during commencement when Mwakatika, the senior class philanthropy director, will serve as the undergraduate speaker.
“Four years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined being chosen to represent the whole senior class at commencement. When I was on that plane coming to the U.S. my only thought was ‘I hope I survive this place. I hope someone is waiting for me on the other side when I get off of this plane. I hope I make friends. I hope I can understand what’s going on in class and am able to navigate my way through this, and graduate with a degree at UW.’ And I didn’t really imagine I’d have achieved all the things that I have achieved,” Mwakatika said.
Mwakatika’s achievements are a product of his strong desire to connect with others and make an impact wherever he is. After graduating from high school, Mwakatika developed an interest in agriculture, seeing the implications that a strong industry could have for his country. Wanting to prepare himself to make his own contributions to the industry and his country, he researched universities with top agricultural programs, eventually coming across UW–Madison, as well as the King-Morgridge Scholars Program.
“One thing that captivated me to become a King-Morgridge scholar is that they were encouraging the students to write about poverty conditions in their own countries, and that is something that I had been constantly thinking about even before I came to UW,” Mwakatika said. “I grew up in the rural areas of Malawi, and agriculture is one of the things that I wanted to help with as it affects about 80% of the people. Reflecting upon my experience, I am glad I made the decision to become a K-M scholar. Even though I may have had to push harder and go out of my way sometimes to get some of the help that I got, I feel like with the resources I have been able to get, it has really prepared me for such a mission going forward.”
Mwakatika has focused on building connections and experiences that will help him further his vision for Malawi. As president of the student organization Project Malawi, he led fundraising efforts for various agricultural organizations in Malawi. He has even used his connections to build a bridge between the UW based Project Malawi and the Associated Center for Agro-based Development (ACADES). ACADES focuses on changing the mindset of Malawi’s youth and aspires to redefine agriculture, promoting it as an attractive and lucrative business for young individuals. Ultimately, this organization aims to promote youth growth and spur economic development for individuals as well as the entire nation.
Mwakatika first worked with ACADES during his gap year following high school. After enrolling at UW–Madison, Mwakatika continued to maintain a close relationship with the organization, not only creating a connection between the Madison and Malawi organizations, but also in facilitating a new opportunity with the International Internship Program. CEO Hasting Nhlane even visited campus, to speak in agriculture classes and meet with students in Project Malawi.
Additionally, Mwakatika and Nhlane discussed microfinance and how the organization could make a further impact in Malawi by starting programming in that area. Mwakatika already had extensive experience in this area, having interned for CARE in Malawi, where he assisted with a research project to study the effects of loans versus in-kind gifts such as food and supplies. A few months later, Nhlane offered Mwakatika a job with ACADES—leading the organization’s new microfinance initiative.
He will begin his new role in June. Mwakatika said he sees microfinance as a way to empower farmers and help them to grow long-term. As farmers pay back loans, others will be able to apply for funds, creating an environment of prosperity. It is a role perfectly suited to him given his interests, educational background, and professional experience.
Even with his new position secure, Mwakatika is focused on completing his time at UW–Madison without losing momentum. Under his leadership as senior class philanthropy director, he led a successful fundraising campaign for the senior class gift that will make funds available for social change initiatives. In addition, he is working with members of Project Malawi to raise $10,000 through selling jewelry and accessories created by local artisans from Malawi. The fundraiser, which runs through May 28 will provide funding for microfinance loans.
Mwakatika will deliver his parting message at Commencement on May 8. However, he did share his sentiments on the opportunity to study at UW–Madison.
“I’m just grateful that the Kings and Morgridges thought of this opportunity, the amount of heart that they were able to give, and the way they designed this scholarship to be such a comprehensive thing,” Mwakatika said. “It is really empowering because students can freely express themselves and explore other things when they don’t have to worry about having two jobs on campus and trying to figure out where the next meal comes from. Having to just focus on school and everything that I am interested in has been great.”
Story by Steve Barcus, International Division