How does a Tanzanian girl who grew up in a rural village end up in a Master’s Program in Bioengineering in the US? This is the story of Josephine Richard Masandika, who is the embodiment of dedication to a dream.
We’d like to introduce you (or reacquaint you) with this remarkable young woman, who was instrumental in the establishment of the Kisa Project and today is an incredible role model for countless other girls in Tanzania. She is shown here on the right with her friend Hella Habtewold after their graduation from Lake Forest College in May 2016.
As a young girl growing up with her Aunt in the town of Iringa, Tanzania, Josephine was a voracious reader, consuming about 40 novels a year. When a cousin arrived in the village speaking only Ukrainian, he was tutored in English and Josephine taught herself English at the same time so that they could communicate. As a result, Josephine’s command of English was extremely strong in 2009 when Ashley Shuyler came to tour Muungano Vocational Secondary School, the first secondary school in Tanzania to combine academic and vocational learning. Josephine was the top of her class academically and voted as “Head Girl” by her classmates, and thus was asked to serve as a guide that day for Ashley. That chance encounter was the first big step toward Josephine achieving her dream of becoming the first female bioengineer in Tanzania.
Ashley was in the process of mapping out the structure and curriculum of the Kisa Project at that time and Josephine’s stories, challenges and intelligence served as a catalyst. Josephine also worked for AfricAid for a summer, helping to get the Kisa Project off the ground. Ashley remembers, “I was deeply inspired by Josephine from the very first day I met her over eight years ago, and her persistence, vision and brilliance continue to inspire me today. Her story helps our Kisa Scholars understand the true meaning of being a leader that will shape the future of Tanzania.”
Ashley had given a presentation at Emma Willard School, a fine boarding school in the US, and learned that they were seeking talented students from around the world. Josephine applied with Ashley’s recommendation and in 2010 received a full scholarship from the Charles and Marjorie Holloway Foundation for her last two years of high school. Imagine Josephine’s excitement and nervousness upon leaving Tanzania at the equator for four seasons in Troy, New York!
From Emma Willard, Josephine progressed on to Lake Forest College, where she earned her BS cum laude in 2016 with a major in Biology and a minor in Neuroscience. “I find that learning how the brain works, how diseases develop, and how to fight them endlessly fascinating,” said Josephine. We recently heard the exciting news that she will begin a Masters in Bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has a PhD in her sights as well! This is personal for Josephine because as a child she struggled with some health challenges. She knows just how important and life-saving new technologies can be for people in Tanzania.
It is definitely time to circle back to Josephine and learn more about her success story. Enjoy getting to know Josephine, in her own words!
What was your home life as a young girl like?
I come from a family of for girls and my early life at home was pretty traditional. My Dad now works for an agricultural company and my Mom is an Administrative Assistant for World Vision.
I went to a local school, along with my younger sister and cousins. My parents encouraged education so we all worked hard to be the best version of ourselves. My family is proud of my path and my accomplishments so far.
What interests you about bioengineering? What type of job will you have with this degree?
I wanted to do something that was a happy union between biological science and technology. I also wanted to do research that will help doctors find new and inventive ways to help patients with complicated conditions. Bioengineering does all this and more, ranging from medical research with Medical Doctors to industry research with pharmaceutical companies. After pursuing my Masters and PhD, I plan to return to Tanzania to make bioengineering a big industry there.
Please tell us about a challenge you have overcome or a time you felt discouraged.
The biggest challenge so far has been racial issues. I honestly never thought about my own race until I came to the US. In Tanzania I was simply a woman. In the US, I am a black woman. My race and sex have brought new challenges but they have also made me stronger. I understand that I have to work twice as hard to get to where I want. I am grateful to have people in my life who have helped me deal with these challenges.
Who was your role model/inspiration?
My maternal grandfather was an inspiration for a long time until he died suddenly from a suspected heart condition. He was a Medical Doctor at a time when that was not very common. He was also a loving father and bubbly grandparent. I wanted to be him when I grew up, I still do.
What would you tell young women in Tanzania about the value of education?
Do not give up on your education. Study what you find interesting, what you are truly passionate about. Let it consume you and the rewards will go beyond securing a good career or earning money (both of which are also very important). Your education is the best thing you can possess. No one can take your education away from you, it is the one thing that will always be truly yours. Above all, I think it is amazing to learn new things, being informed about the past and the present and how things work gives you a chance to know what the future may hold. It also gives you an opportunity to explore the world outside your own, something that I personally find incredibly fascinating.
How was your transition from living in Tanzania to being here (the cold Northern states of NY and IL).
Ashley and Louis prepared me for the big change and connected me to people in New York who helped introduce me to American culture. Even at home though, where the weather is warm, I always felt cold. So imagine walking through a polar vortex in Chicago. Not fun!
I have enjoyed seeing different parts of the US, including California, New York City and New Jersey, Minnesota, Denver-Colorado, and Phoenix-Arizona. I want to visit many other places when and if I can. I have also experienced Thanksgiving at a friend’s house. Two years ago my friends and I decided to put a twist on Thanksgiving by cooking Tanzanian and Ethiopian food.
What do you like to do for fun?
For the past two years or so, I have found love in running. I run almost every day. I also enjoy reading and cooking.