During MUST’s maiden graduation on November 5, 2019, three students (two ladies and one gentleman) were awarded their degrees with distinction/first class. Peter Mwambananji is one of those students who got a first class in Biomedical Engineering (Honours) and in this first of three series, he shares his background and academic success secrets with James Mphande. Excerpts:
First congratulations for being one of the two students who got a first class in your Biomedical Engineering class at MUST. What was your reaction when you heard that you passed with such flying colours?
I was very happy that I was honoured with such a great award. People talk about MUST programmes being very challenging and getting a first class was something else. I got the message while home and I literally ran around the whole house with joy.
Before we talk about your secret to your success, I would like to know more about your personal background.
I was born at Bwaila Hospital, then called Bottom, in Lilongwe on 16th January, 1997. My first primary school was Mwenyekondo LEA where I was for just a term before transferring to a private school called Khama where I discovered my potential to score amazing grades in class. Then my family moved to Blantyre where I enrolled at another private primary school called Heidi in Makhetha where I did my standards 2 to 3. I later transferred to Chichiri Primary School where I completed my primary school education and sat for my Primary School Leaving Certificate exams in 2009. I was selected to Chichiri Secondary School where I did my forms 1 and 2 before transferring to Zomba Catholic Secondary School where I wrote my MSCE examinations in 2013 and got 9 points.
You were studying Biomedical Engineering at MUST, was this what you wanted to do?
Not entirely. I had passion to read for an MBBS at College of Medicine because I like looking after people when they’re hurt and I thought that being a medical doctor would make my dream come true. However, as we finished our Form 4, our deputy head teacher of Zomba Catholic told us that a new university, meaning MUST, would be enrolling students for its first intake and he encouraged us to apply. At that point I did not know anything about MUST’s programmes so I did not apply. But when the first advert calling for applications into MUST programmes came out, my father insisted that I apply and I did. Since there were only three undergraduate programmes on offer, I put Biomedical Engineering as my first choice followed in that order by Chemical Engineering and Metallurgy and Materials Engineering. I went for Biomedical Engineering as first choice because it had this medical aspect to it.
I know that you have been a very competitive student since your first year. What was your secret to this success?
Team work. I never considered myself a closed system and being overly competitive. In fact, I would sacrifice most of my study hours to help my classmates and even those in lower classes or those pursuing different programmes from mine. In doing this, I realised that I was also being helped because they would come to me with a question that I had no idea about it and because I really wanted to help them would go and research on it. Once I get the answer, I would explain it to them and also keep the knowledge for other applications.
Would people be wrong to think that you never had any serious academic challenges while at MUST?
They would definitely be wrong. I had challenges and lots of them. I lacked the skill and endurance of studying for long hours and this it affected my grades, especially in those modules that needed a lot of reading like Biology.
Now that you are out there, what are you doing or what do you intend to do?
Having passed through the tertiary education system, I have realized that people who achieve more are those that share the knowledge that builds communities and civilizations, and that’s what I intend to do. I want to go into teaching, preferably being a lecturer and maximize my chances by applying for a scholarship to do a master’s degree in the same field of Biomedical Engineering. You will agree that Biomedical Engineering is a new field in Malawi and requires a lot of capacity building to create a pool of more skilled and knowledgeable people to reach out to others and/or create lots of jobs for others. I want to be one of the pioneers to expand the knowledge base in this field.
Obviously with your success, you are an inspiration to many students here at MUST and beyond. What advice would you give to such students if they are to follow in your footsteps?
My advice to them is to never give up on themselves and even on others. Life is full of challenges but it takes great people to overcome those challenges and most of the great people in the world are those who did not or do not give up. Great achievers throughout the ages didn’t get their success in their first attempt, but because the initial failures or challenges did not deter them so they kept on trying again even when the nudge to give up lingered in their mind. By not succumb to defeat, they finally realised their goals. Passing through MUST can be challenging but having the right goals and the right company have a way of giving good results. And the hand that washes others is washed as well, so goes the saying. If you aim for better grades, it would feel better if that was celebrated with classmates.
What was your happiest day at MUST?
The graduation day, of course.
You came to MUST at a time when the university lacked many things, how did you deal with these challenges and ensure that they did not affect your studies?
I had faith and hope. Every new university is like a seed sown in the ground, you have to wait for it to germinate and grow until it is big enough to produce fruits. One cannot expect a newly planted seed to produce fruits the same day. So that’s what I did. I waited for the university to grow as I grew with it. I reasoned throughout the entire process so that we grow at the same pace and with this attitude I never found my learning process much of a headache.
MUST is a new university, any advice on any areas you may want the university to pay close attention so that things get better?
I know the university has very good plans going forward, most of which are innovative and good. However, maybe MUST should consider the following as well: engage students in community outreach research programmes to enable students to have a better scope of the problems the communities are facing so that they can derive projects from there; consider challenging students with actual projects to work on before their final years which would allow them to understand the concept of project management; introduce the concept of entrepreneurship in the early years and throughout the courses; have a students academic committee which takes complaints of students and present them to academic staff members for solutions; increase knowledge of online learning; and assessment of the students’ strengths to know which industry they would fit in before graduation.
Any comments you may want to share with the MUST community or Malawians in general?
I would like to thank the MUST community for helping me to reach a new step in my life. Every single individual from the Vice Chancellor, the entire management, academic and administrative staff, and fellow students who played a role in this affair. And to all Malawians whose tax money has played a vital role in paying up for my tuition fees through the loans I obtained from the Higher Education Students’ Loans and Grants Board. To all these I say thank you. I will repay this kindness to the coming generation of students in the same way or even better.