Episode 127

Ntombizodwa Makuyana

You need exposure to know what you want to do

July 12, 2020

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Episode Overview

Tombi was raised in an underdeveloped part of Zimbabwe. Her mother was a part-time housekeeper and her father was a builder. She grew up helping her parents and brothers, and studying at the same time. Having witnessed the life of her mother’s employers, including hearing the stories of their child who was going to college at that time, Tombi was inspired and had her own dream of becoming a doctor someday.

“Most of the time our schools don’t teach us to know (what you want to do) because they expect you to just figure it out in your head. Honestly, it doesn’t come out that way. You need exposure to know what you want to do.” – Ntombizodwa Makuyana

Tombi became 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 was able to pursue her studies in Arizona State University’s School of Molecular Sciences with a degree in medicinal biochemistry. Tombi also has her sights set on possibly pursuing her MD-PhD.

Aside from teaching middle school at Boys & Girls Clubs of East Valley, Tombi is also doing research to understand how the immune response can be used to detect and alter cancer development. 

Tombi co-founded Female Dreamers, a project in Zimbabwe 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.

In this conversation, Tombi talks about her early life and education, pursuing her degree in Biochemistry, and her dream to go to be a doctor. She also talks about the mentality of some cultures and societies that has limited expectations of women, the valuable skills that parents need to teach their children, and some practical skills she wished her parents taught her growing up.

“Incomplete information really kills us as children, because we end up having to explore it on our own. And exploring sometimes comes with mistakes, some of them you have to pay for the rest of your life.” – Ntombizodwa Makuyana

what you’ll learn in this episode

  • Her early life in Zimbabwe
  • Her scholarship and how she chose Biochemistry in Arizona State University
  • Her dream to go to medical school
  • Her insights on how some cultures and societies that has limited expectation of women
  • The practical skills she wished her parents taught her growing up
  • Her love for music, learning to play the guitar, and joining a band.
  • Her research on using biomarkers to detect and alter cancer development.
  • How faith and spirituality had kept her grounded
  • How family support is one of the her most powerful motivations


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