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Muhire Honorine Kwizera Paves a Way for Future Rwandian Mathematicians

November 2016

Kwizera_Muhire_Headshot Muhire Honorine Kwizera, C’2017, a native of Kigali, Rwanda, is a senior at Spelman College and the treasurer for the College's International Student Organization.

What inspired you to major in mathematics?
I like solving problems and I enjoy complexity. It was natural for me to be drawn to mathematics as my parents and siblings already had or were pursuing STEM degrees.

At first, my parents were slightly skeptical about my success as a mathematics major because not many women study mathematics in Rwanda. I had to apply myself and prove to them that I could do math.

What are your short-term and long-term career goals? How do you plan to use your skills to impact change in your chosen field?
I hope to enroll in a Ph.D program in biostatistics or statistics in the fall of 2017. Upon completion of the doctoral program, I would like to create a research group that will develop statistical techniques and apply them to the analysis of public health data from developing countries. I will devote my research career to ensuring sustainable healthcare for everyone and particularly for the economically, socially and environmentally disadvantaged.

Please describe any internship, research or study abroad experiences you have had while at Spelman. How (if at all) did these experiences further convince you to pursue your chosen career?
At Spelman College, I am part of a chemistry research group which creates multidimensional spectroscopic techniques for investigating the structure and behavior of gaseous molecules with atmospheric relevance.

Spectroscopy finds applications in various areas including in the non-invasive diagnosis of diseases. My work is in computational chemistry; and I am building a nonparametric Four-Wave Mixing model in MATLAB to attempt to explain the additional peaks observed in the structure of gas phase molecules and thus facilitate data analysis. This research confirmed my interest in a research career and stirred my curiosity about the health effects of the various gases we breathe. Together with my summer research experiences at the Emory University School of Medicine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, this research guided my choice of a biostatistics research career.

What resonates with you most about the film "Hidden Figures?" 
The film “Hidden Figures” is an inspiration to me. I am conscious that there is still not enough diversity in the STEM field and that the road to a Ph.D. degree will not be easy for me as a woman of color. Seeing the resilience and accomplishments of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson strengthens me in my belief that I will obtain a Ph.D. degree if I put in the work and do not give up.

What person has had the biggest influence upon you as it relates to your interest in mathematics?

I get my interest in mathematics from my family, but without the women faculty in the mathematics department at Spelman College, I would probably not be graduating as a mathematics major in May 2017. They might not realize it, but with their guidance they played a big role in my undergraduate mathematics career and an even bigger one in my choice of an applied mathematics career. I will always be grateful to them for that.

Janelle Monae's character and the other women, had to use their voice to disrupt the status quo. Explain a time when you had to use your voice in order to gain respect as a math major or scholar.  
There was not a time when I was the only woman of color in my program mainly because I was always surrounded by women of color while growing up in Rwanda and here at Spelman College. I know, however, that in Rwanda many women are socially discouraged from pursuing mathematical degrees and as a result choose not to study mathematics. By earning a Ph.D in an applied mathematics field, I hope to serve as a role model and a source of encouragement to young girls who wish to pursue STEM degrees and mathematical degrees in particular.

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