Grad says an interest in science and a desire to help those in need were keys to career choice.
It was an unlikely combination of interests in science, French, global health and her Christian faith that came together nicely for 2008 Notre Dame alum Sajel (Tremblay) Nuwamanya when, as a student at DePauw University, she began looking at health and medical initiatives in the African countries of Senegal and Uganda.
Now a biochemistry grad with a French minor from DePauw (Indiana) and a current student in med school at Wayne State University, Nuwamanya said it was an especially busy time in Africa that solidified in her mind the direction her career was pointing, which was toward medicine and—incidentally—also toward meeting her future husband, Victor.
But it was when Nuwamanya was an undergrad that she originally began to connect with hunger and malnutrition initiatives in Africa and the work of Dr. Thomas Burke of the Division of Global Health and Human Rights at Massachusetts General Hospital after a presentation he gave at DePauw. It didn’t take her long to join one of Burke’s projects, the "Initiative to End Child Malnutrition," as a program coordinator.
“And five days after graduation from DePauw, I was on a plane to Uganda, a place I had obviously heard about and was excited to see first hand,” she said.
“Many big decisions were made when I was in Uganda,” said Nuwamanya. “I really looked forward to working with patients and their caregivers, and I learned a lot about malnutrition-treatment protocols as well.”
She loved what she learned so much that she decided she would begin pursuing a medical degree full time when she got back to Michigan and then to eventually return to Africa at some point to make a bigger and better impact as an M.D.
“I even started studying for the MCATs, the entrance exams for American medical schools, while living in rural Uganda,” she said.
The ‘same Jesus’
Nuwamanya said her faith also was a big influence in here decision to pursue medicine. “I knew from being active with the church since I was young that the knowledge of Jesus Christ made a huge impact in people’s lives everywhere in the world, including Uganda,” she said.
It wasn’t the first time her Catholic ideals were called upon, though. At DePauw, as a member of the university’s volleyball team, she led a local chapter of Athletes in Action, a Christian organization where athletes who are Christ followers become missionaries through their sport.
In Rukungiri, Uganda, Nuwamanya oversaw both inpatient and outpatient treatment programs for children with malnutrition at Karoli Lwanga “Nyakibale” Hospital, a private, rural Catholic hospital. She also helped train Ugandan health workers in the national protocol for the treatment of malnutrition so that they would be able to continue the work when she and her team left for home.
Also, while in Uganda, Nuwamanya joined a local church in the city of Rukungiri and connected with many other Christians. “I was amazed to see the same Jesus who loved me in in the U.S. move and work in people’s lives 7,400 miles away from my home,” she said. “And I also knew that even the best health care was not a cure for people when their lives were broken in a lot of other ways. So I decided right then that I would be a medical missionary and eventually return to Africa after finishing my formal medical training.”
She also met her husband while in Uganda. “Victor was at the same church in Rukungiri where I was working as a youth pastor and administrator,” she said. “We served together and visited local high schools to teach students about our shared a vision of reaching lost souls with the gospel of Jesus Christ.” They married in 2013.
In addition to her work in Uganda, Nuwamanya also studied and volunteered in Senegal, a French-speaking country in West Africa.
“I was able to take a course in international public health in Senegal and practice my French-speaking skills at the same time,” Nuwamanya said. “After a semester in Dakar, I then volunteered for 10 weeks with Mission Inter Senegal, a branch of the Senegalese Evangelical Fellowship, which is a non-profit organization recognized by the government. I worked in the laboratory at a mission hospital and lived with a missionary family from Zambia.”
Journey began at NDP
Nuwamanya says the full scholarship she received from DePauw and her other academic success was a direct result of the strong academics and study skills she learned at Notre Dame Prep.
“I qualified to apply for the DePauw scholarship based primarily on my high grade-point-average at Notre Dame,” she said. “I remember as an NDP senior that in order to even apply for the scholarship, I had to write an essay based on a book about globalization, which I didn’t necessarily look forward to.”
But Nuwamanya did read the book and then wrote a strong essay that obviously impressed DePauw, because not long afterward the university notified her that she had been awarded the Rector Scholarship, a rare prize reserved only for candidates with superior achievement in all academic areas within a rigorous high school curriculum.
Plus, she said, without all of the credit she earned from her AP classes at NDP, she knew she wouldn’t have been able to complete a double major at DePauw and then study abroad.
“I passed quickly into upper-level courses and during my first year on campus, I took advanced science and French courses with all upperclassmen and I still excelled,” she said. “In addition, I arrived at college already knowing how to balance lots of schoolwork with athletics and extracurricular student organizations.”
She graduated magna cum laude from DePauw, and it appears that things have worked out quite well for her.
Nuwamanya now lives in Detroit with husband, Victor, and their 9-month-old daughter, Chloe. She wanted to make sure it was noted that her original interest in the sciences came directly as a result of classes she took at Notre Dame, “especially those with science teacher Ms. (Jocelynn) Yaroch.”
Nuwamanya has many other favorite memories of Notre Dame Prep, and near the top of her list is winning the Class B volleyball state championship in 2008 during her senior year. “I really enjoyed coaching the middle-school volleyball team and helping at volleyball summer camps with the grade-school girls,” she said. “I loved playing volleyball and learned a lot from Coach (Betty) Wroubel. We never had an easy practice and her always-high expectations taught me to expect the best out of myself and put in the hard work to achieve it.”
Nuwamanya wanted to make sure she thanked Ms. (Kathy) Bembas and Ms. (Sheri) Derico for instilling great reading and writing abilities in her—skills, she says, she’ll never stop using. “I remember that Ms. Bembas’s tests were so hard that even when I read the whole book, I was still stumped,” she said. “And how can I forget Mr. (Mark) McCaskey’s log rules that were written on an actual log, which could even make calculus interesting.”
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Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org.