Office of Development
Growing up in Durban, South Africa, Aisha Zungu and her siblings rambled through nature reserves with their mom. These outings inspired in Aisha a love of the natural environment. Later, as she took STEM-related courses, Aisha discovered a latent talent—and untapped passion—for the science behind the nature she treasures. “I was very surprised to find that I love organic chemistry,” she laughs. “I really like the structures of organic compounds.”
Aisha wants to be a park ranger because the job combines scientific knowledge with physical engagement in the environment. The broad range of majors at ESF made it the perfect place to prepare for her career. “I knew that if I didn't fit into forest health, I could choose another environmentally focused major,” she says.
Aisha also loves ESF because it’s enabled her to meet like-minded people who share her interests and values. “My friends and I love being outdoors, and we strive to reduce our environmental impact. When you're surrounded by people who do the same, you're more inclined to continue that type of behavior.”
But as a woman of color, Aisha knows that like-mindedness isn’t enough to overcome the barriers she faces in the predominantly white- and male-dominated STEM field. She found support in LSAMP, the Louis Stokes Alliance of Minority Participation Program. Participants in LSAMP complete funded research under a mentor in their sophomore year. The program also offers team building activities and strives to counteract the “leaky pipeline,” whereby talented women of color refrain from pursuing a career in STEM due to a lack of fair workplace practices. “LSAMP was very impactful for me,” says Aisha. “It's very easy to feel outcasted, and being around other minorities made me feel less alone.”
Winning a scholarship to ESF protects Zungu from student debt. But it has a much more profound meaning for her. “At one point, I wasn't even thinking of going into STEM because I thought it was too hard for me. Having this financial aid lets me know I’m meant to be here.”