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Fueled To Thrive

Perhaps it is not surprising that Wizaso “Wiza” Munthali knows well how to tap into available resources. 

After all, she has dedicated much of her career as a professional and an NC State doctoral student to analyzing alternative energy sources. This Saturday, Munthali will recount a slice of her journey when she takes the stage as a commencement speaker for the College of Natural Resources

That journey includes pressing pause on her 22-year career in environmental regulation in her home country of Zambia and deciding to return to school as an international student. Munthali will add a Ph.D. in forestry and environmental resources, with a specialization in geographic information systems, to an impressive resume that includes being a Fulbright Scholar. Although Munthali found the fuel to get her over the finish line, she seems surprised. 

“I can’t believe it’s happening!” she said, looking ahead towards graduation. “It wasn’t easy being at my age and attempting a Ph.D., and realizing that I needed to wear glasses all the time.”

But attempt it she did. The Fulbright committee considered her experience and interests in energy transition, alternative cooking energy and life cycle analysis and recommended that she apply to NC State, where she would receive the rigor and research culture to make an impact. 

Munthali said that NC State’s fast-paced, results-driven environment might be “quite daunting” initially to an international student. But what set the school apart for her was its high level of student support. Tapping into NC State’s academic resources, Munthali transformed her “phobia” of the statistical coding software Stata into excitement. “I still can’t believe it, to this day, that I can confidently go into Stata and write out some program without struggling as much as I used to at the beginning.”

A woman holds a large black pendant necklace with a silver chain.
Wizaso Munthali holds the black pendant necklace she will wear for commencement — a gift from her mother.

She also found NC State’s counseling services to be crucial. Sadly, her mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2020 and passed away. Munthali leaned on the emotional support the counseling services provided to get her through that challenging period. 

“There was always some place where you could go and get the guidance you needed,” she said.

“The system is rooting for you. They want you to succeed.”

Since her classes ended, Munthali has been teaching as a lecturer at the Copperbelt University in Kitwe, a mining city in Zambia, where she mentors young environmental engineers. She’s a natural teacher and it shows. For potential students interested in environmental science or a similar path to hers, Munthali gave this advice: “Develop a topic that is relevant to you.” 

“Let it be meaningful to you.”