Hello UGRADs! My name is Sibonisiwe Ngubeni and I was privileged to represent my country, Zimbabwe, as a Global UGRAD student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) in the spring semester of 2019. UTK, also known as Rocky Top, was packed with opportunities, hospitality, energy, tradition, green spaces, and quiet corners; a true breeding ground for thriving global changemakers. The Global UGRAD Program was a distinct highlight in my life because it positioned me for success in a monumental way. This is reflected in engagements and career opportunities that have followed the completion of my program.
The spring of 2019 was an iconic season for amplifying my dreams and transforming my existence for the better. What is worthier than being a Global UGRAD student while also being a Tennessee Volunteer, a torchbearer abiding by the inspirational UTK Volunteer Creed which reads: ‘one that beareth a torch shadoweth oneself to give light unto others’? It can only be an honor!
After the spring semester ended, I returned to my home country and concluded my undergraduate degree in environmental science and health and graduated in 2020. Later that year, I received the opportunity to work for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), supporting a COVID-19 response project for migrants at the border between Zimbabwe and Botswana. After two years of being involved in humanitarian assistance work and data collection, I began a job with the U.S Forest Service (USFS) International Programs as a Zimbabwe Country Coordinator. Through this position, I have managed and coordinated all USFS natural resource management work with our local partners in Zimbabwe. This has been a tremendous advancement in my career and has afforded me the opportunity to plan and organize new employee orientations for our international staff and study tours for our local implementing partners held in the United States. It’s been exhilarating to travel between Zimbabwe and the United States for work, and I have gained incredible knowledge from my interactions with natural resource management experts within USFS domestic staff and learned more about our global engagement through international programs. If you want to learn more about the work we do internationally or watch out for opportunities within your country, visit the link here: https://www.fs.usda.gov/about-agency/international-programs.
I am proud of all the UGRAD students who drew inspiration from my journey and were awarded the same opportunity. I had the honor of assisting some of them with their application processes as well as speaking about my experience and giving travel advice through pre-departure orientations organized by the U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe. It is my wish to see more students from Zimbabwe participate in this program as it is a life-changing experience.
2023 has been quite a special year because the Global UGRAD End of Program Workshop coincided with my time in the United States and I had the opportunity to attend and connect in person with students from Zimbabwe who lit up the room with their stellar performance during the Take the Stage event! I am truly a proud alumna.
Once a UGRAD always a UGRAD!