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My interview with...Carol Noronha

Mohamed Mambo from the Daily News. It's a picture of me with Dr. Shukuru Kawambwa, the Tanzanian Minister for Education, when we were sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers at the American Embassy in Dar es Salaam (September 17, 2014).

Carol graduated Wayne State University in 2014 with a Bachelors of Science in Psychology, with University Honors, and a Minor in Biological Sciences. Upon graduation, she become a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Honors Society. She enrolled into the Peace Corps two months after graduation, where she is currently serving as a Volunteer in Tanzaniz, teaching Biology and Chemistry at a Secondary School. In addition to teaching, she is involved in different programs at the school to increase knowledge of English, and is a participant in community outreach programs related to HIV/AIDS and malaria.    

Q: What was your first involvement with the Honors College, and what activities/service projects/volunteer work did you take part in while being a part of the Honors College? How did those experiences enrich your experience with the College?

My first major service involvement with the Honors College was my group’s Honors 2000 project.  We worked with a DPS’ Thurgood Marshall Elementary School to implement “holistic education” activities – filling a lack of music, drama, art, and nutrition programs at the school.  This was my first enriching education-related experience that would color much of my time at Wayne State.  My experiences with my Honors 2000 project prompted me to take advantage of more opportunities to volunteer in Detroit Public Schools.  I did this, as a participant and subsequently a leader, in the Alternative Spring Break Detroit Education team.  Some of my most enriching experiences as an undergraduate were in continuing to volunteer in schools after the program had ended – helping with music therapy for autistic students at Marcus Garvey Elementary, and helping with a musical production at Golightly Educational Center.  These experiences supplemented my Honors coursework as I worked to become a more involved and invested citizen of Detroit.

Q: What research did you do with the Department of Psychiatry while attending Wayne State?

The research that I did for the Wayne State SOM Department of Psychiatry was with the Brain Research and Imaging Neuroscience (BRAIN) Department.  I worked under the direction of Dr. Vaibhav Diwadkar from 2010 - 2014.  Most of my time was spent studying Childhood-Onset Schizophrenia, in a project that I began in 2011 at the National Institutes of Mental Health during a summer internship. Childhood-Onset Schizophrenia (COS) is a very rare and extremely severe type of schizophrenia in which symptoms affect children before their 13th birthday.  I studied the functional correlates of COS, their healthy siblings, and control subjects using functional MRI. Several different analyses comprised my work on the project, including Functional Activation, Effective Connectivity using Psycho-Physiological Interaction, Voxel-based Morphometry, and correlates of Antipsychotic Medication dosage.  I was able to present my research at several national and international conferences, and we are in the final stages of submitting a manuscript to a Psychiatry journal.

Q: According to Peace Corps’ website, “as the preeminent international service organization of the United States, the Peace Corps sends Americans abroad to tackle the most pressing needs of people around the world.”  Why did you choose to go into the Peace Corps, and how did the service aspect of the Honors College and what you learned by going through the MedStart program prepare you for the service work you are doing?

There are many reasons why I decided that service in the Peace Corps was my calling directly after graduation.  Part of it was filling a need, and helping students around the world to fall in love with learning, just like I did as a young child.  I still remember my own teachers from Kindergarten and first grade, and they instilled a passion for learning within me that has always propelled me through school.  My aim is not only to teach, but to foster a lifelong hunger for knowledge and drive for success within my students.  Another part of my decision was self-discovery.  I have a long educational path ahead of me, and I felt it was a good time for me to use my creative energy in the worldwide classroom, rather than a lecture hall.  In many ways, this is an extension of my education, and I hope that it will allow me to grow in new ways as a student and an individual.

Q: The Peace Corps’ mission is to promote world peace and friendship by fulfilling three goals: help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and woman, to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of people served, and to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. What activities have you done as a member of the Peace Corps and how have they related to the Peace Corps mission and their three main goals?

At this point, I have only been an official Peace Corps Volunteer for a week!  But, I did spend two months in training in which I started to fulfill Peace Corps’ three goals.  As part of fulfilling the first goal, I was able to teach school in a rural secondary school during my training, as well as take lessons in Kiswahili (the language of Tanzania) from local teachers.  I made headway on the latter two goals mostly by living with a Tanzanian host family.  From my host mother and sisters, I learned how to wash my clothes by hand and prepare traditional Tanzanian foods over a charcoal stove.  As my Kiswahili improved, we were able to share more stories about life in Tanzania and life in America.  Here at my new school, the students and teachers constantly want to know more about America, as they teach me more about Kiswahili and Tanzania.  Sharing our cultures has truly colored the beginning part of my Peace Corps service, and I hope I can continue to participate in this cultural exchange each day of my service.

Q: Describe your teaching experience thus far. Have there been any major hurdles, and what is the biggest difference in the classroom experience between Tanzania and American schools?

My teaching experience, as a whole, has been very positive so far. I have taught in rural schools during my training, as well as during the past few weeks at my permanent placement.  Tanzanian students are eager to learn and hold teachers in the utmost regard. In fact, I can hardly carry my books or bags anywhere, because my students always rush help me with whatever I am carrying!  The major challenge is overcoming the great language barrier.  In Tanzania, primary school students learn in Kiswahili (usually their second language, as almost all children learn a tribal language as their mother tongue).  They learn English as a third language during these years.  However, during secondary school, students are required to learn all subjects in English.  The transition is very difficult, especially in rural schools where even the teachers are not fluent in English. Students are required not only to learn a new language, but to learn to train their thoughts in a new language as they learn in eleven subjects. This is a major challenge, especially because they have three major national exams during secondary school.  In most schools, the number of students who pass their national exams is staggeringly low. Students who do not pass their national exams cannot advance in school, and are faced with few opportunities for employment.  This is one major challenge of the Tanzanian education system that Peace Corps Volunteers like are working to mitigate.

Q: What work have you done in your community outreach programs?

Right now, I have only been at my site for two weeks, so I am in the planning stages of my community outreach work.  Peace Corps requires that I spent three months in my community before I begin projects outside of my school, so I will spend these three months working with community leaders to plan our next steps.  I hope to be involved with health projects, to aid awareness of proper nutrition, malaria, and HIV/AIDS in rural communities surrounding my village.  I also hope to be able to provide opportunities and classes for adults in my community to become literate.  I hope to work with local churches and orphanages to get my own students engaged in service during my time here.

Q: How can you utilize the knowledge and experiences you gained to help make a better life for yourself? Your community? Wayne State University? The City of Detroit?

In my life, opportunities to serve have been opportunities for growth.  During my time in Detroit, learning to serve different kinds of people helped to make me a more engaged and empowered citizen of Detroit.  These experiences brought me closer to my community, in Detroit, and at Wayne State University.  The knowledge I gained during my undergraduate years continues to help me as I learn how to serve the people of Tanzania, and will help me throughout life.

Q: What was your proudest achievement during the time spent as a member of the Honors College at Wayne State University?

Accepting the Galster Award at the end of my time at Wayne State was definitely a proud moment, and sort of a culmination of all of my experiences in the Honors College.  But often, the moments in which I feel the most pride are when I can see my impact in the Honors College or the community; small moments when I can see that I’ve been able to mentor a younger Honors student through their coursework and research, or that I’ve made a difference in the mind of a child.

Q: What advice would you give to a current or incoming Honors College student?

Being part of the Honors College means that you are definitely a “big fish in a small pond.”  It might sound cliché, but there are so many opportunities offered to you as an Honors student.  Opportunities for research, funding, and service are offered to you in abundance.  Take advantage of as many as you can, and you will see that the benefits come back to you ten-fold.  As an Honors student, the Honors College sets you up to succeed – but you have the responsibility to bring the benefits back full circle.  Help other students to become engaged with Honors as we foster the growth of the Honors community.

*Photo courtsey of Mohamed Mambo from the Daily News. It's a picture of Carol with Dr. Shukuru Kawambwa, the Tanzanian Minister for Education, when she was sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers at the American Embassy in Dar es Salaam (September 17, 2014).