Hi all, I’m Leonard Mushunje, a Fall 2021 Global UGRAD student from Zimbabwe. I recently graduated from Midlands State University with a distinction in Mathematics and Statistics. When I was selected as a Global UGRAD finalist and was placed at the University of Montevallo in Alabama, I had mixed feelings.
On reflection, being a Global UGRAD student was one of the top privileges I have ever received. The professional, academic, social, and physical gains embedded in the program are unforgettable. I chose to apply for the Global UGRAD program because I wanted to refine, advance, and mold my leadership skills as well as gain academic skills, and indeed I gained unforgettable experiences and invaluable lessons about leadership and service that are truly catapulting me to the future of my dreams.
For me, the versatility, transparency, and flexibility of the program was hugely vital. My dream is to preach the gospel that is Mathematics. While studying at the University of Montevallo, I got the chance to volunteer as a mathematics tutor at Montevallo High School. I taught a class of over 20 students and the funny fact is it was my first time teaching at an international level. I was so nervous and excited at the same time. The way the U.S. students responded and were committed to school work was key to my teaching growth. To stand in front of them and be a good teacher, I had to work super hard which resulted in advancing not only my knowledge but also my leadership skills.
It is often difficult to see the outcome of your work until you receive feedback from the audience. I will always remember one of the testimonies from one of my students on how clear, audible, and eloquent my mathematics teaching and materials were to them. From then on, I knew that the spirit of volunteerism and the heart for service was something I wanted to carry with me even after the Global UGRAD program. As a Global UGRAD student, I realized that leadership is about taking opportunities to give back to the community. Now, giving back is a huge part of my life. I was fortunate to work with Professor Eric Travis and the Montevallo Principal Mr. Steve Bromley and I am forever grateful to them for allowing me to work with them. My host university and World Learning’s support was impactful, not only to me but to the rest of the world through the leadership, guidance, and advice they offered me during the program. At Montevallo, I was assigned Dr. Varagona as my mentor. I remember one day discussing with him my possible career choices. Because of the experience I had obtained through the Global UGRAD program, I really wanted to keep advancing my skills and learning more so as to keep on pursuing my dream of preaching the Mathematics gospel. Among the options we discussed, was to apply to graduate schools in the U.S., which significantly marks my life spot today.
After my Global UGRAD experience, I returned to my home country to give back all I had learned. My ultimate goal as a mathematician is to offer recursive free mathematics lessons and mentorship to aspiring young people. As an upcoming African mathematician, my aim is to raise many African mathematicians through rigorous training, mentorship, and resource allocation. As part of this journey, I published my second mathematics motivational book, “Growing Money from Mathematics” in my book series called, “Unleashing the Mathematical Genius in You.” I wrote this book during my exchange program in the U.S. as a response to the questions I received from students on what careers can math majors take after graduation. I believe writing is a way of communicating, motivating, and bringing change to the community. As a way of giving back, I donated the book to my rural schools in Zimbabwe which I hope will bring about solid changes. Positive results are coming out of my first book, “Surviving Numbers,” which targets eliminating the embarrassment of numbers. I am looking forward to bringing more change and to raising a huge community of mathematicians. In addition, I run a non-profit math organization, the World Mathematical Society, which is working on providing easy learning environments for remote students in Africa, and my goal is to go global.
To conclude, one of the main outcomes of the Global UGRAD program was an opportunity to explore the U.S. educational system and to visit New York City. When I visited NYC in October 2021, I heard about Columbia University but I never dreamed about attending such an incredible Ivy League school. After doing some research about the school and the mathematics department, I realized that Columbia was one of the top universities in the world with an acceptance rate of only 3%. I decided to take the chance and still apply. I told myself, “if it is competitive then compete.” I then applied to the Mathematics and Statistics Department. The application process was extremely competitive but I always thank God who made it up for me. I am beginning my pre-doctoral training at Columbia University in the City of New York on a full fellowship, this fall! With all of this being said, giving back remains my priority and I cannot wait to share my knowledge with the world.