Female Mathematical Modeler – Zviiteyi Chazuka

A mathematical modeler has the privilege of applying skills in all spheres of life, from natural to social sciences. Zviiteyi chose to model disease infections;

Hello Zviiteyi, I was happy to receive your name from Daphne. Thank you for accepting to add your voice to this cause
Hi Winnie, I am happy to make my contribution to Words That Count.

Briefly introduce yourself to our audience
My name is Zviiteyi Chazuka from Zimbabwe. I have just recently been awarded a Postdoc fellowship at the University of South Africa (UNISA), Department of Decision Sciences. I am a mathematical modeler who studies sexually transmitted infections and neglected tropical infections.

Your research is very important to this Africa; how did you end up as a mathematical modeler?
I was born in rural Zimbabwe, in a place called Rusape, as the firstborn of two children and the remaining surviving child (brother is late). We moved to Bulawayo when I was five years old and attended my primary and secondary school there. I remember winning the best in mathematics awards in primary school, which drove my career choice later on. I passed my O’levels and A’levels and proceeded to the National University of Science and Technology to pursue a degree in Applied Mathematics under the government grant program, which I completed in 2008.

Due to the economic situation in my country at that time, I decided to work and was employed by Bulawayo Polytechnic Engineering Department. At the time of my employment in 2009, I was the only lecturer with a mathematics degree and I taught all mathematics courses within the department from National Certificate to Higher National Diploma. My love for a research culture led me to team up with my colleagues to form the first research association at Bulawayo Polytechnic. The main role of this association was to bring forward and showcase the brilliant products and talents of the students at our polytechnic. We won first position awards at Research Expos and we motivated students for better employment opportunities.

The exposure I had from our research association helped me get headhunted by the Chinhoyi University of Technology in Zimbabwe where I was employed as a mathematics lecturer in January 2015. I was the only female lecturer in the department. With a lot of joy, I can say I have successfully contributed to the award of BSc Honours in Mathematics degrees to 3 young women, two of whom I constantly mentor. I do hope that more and more women will take up mathematics soon.

My drive for research further led me to register for a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics in 2016 at the University of South Africa. My research focus was on modeling the immune response dynamics of HPV among HIV-positive women. In the same year, I received a CIMPA travel grant to participate in a summer school in Angola. This was indeed the beginning of my Ph.D. research journey. In 2018 I received a travel grant to attend an ICTP hands-on summer school in Italy. This opportunity opened me up to meeting research collaborators and mentors and in the same year, I was awarded a UNISA M&D bursary for my studies till I finished my Ph.D. in 2021.

On the 29th of October 2021, my thesis was accepted for a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics qualification at UNISA, making me the first and only female with a Ph.D. in Mathematics at the Chinhoyi University of Technology in Zimbabwe. In addition to this, I am the first in my clan to attain a Master’s and a Ph.D. status. Recently, I received a Postdoc position at UNISA, Department of Decision Sciences.

Wow! Huge congratulations to you and thanks for representing African women very well!

Let’s talk about moments when you have felt very challenged as a mathematical modeler
I have had challenges securing funding for some very important research activities outside Africa. It was not easy initially to secure the bursary for my studies, I could have dropped out, but by God’s grace, I finally got it. There are times I could not publish in high-impact journals because of limited research funds. Lastly, I would like to highlight the limited research time due to heavy workloads.

What has helped you stay focused and motivated, especially during those challenging times?
I believe mathematics is my special tool to contribute to solving the world’s problems. I also believe that having so many students whom I have taught look up to me has pushed me forward. This is because my goal is to mentor so many young people into crafting career paths that they enjoy working in and making a mark in solving the world’s problems. If all the students I taught mathematics could use that knowledge to contribute to making the world better I would be so happy, so it has to start with me.

Tell us about moments of recognition that have made you proud as a mathematical modeler
I was awarded a Ph.D. bursary and this Postdoc opportunity. Another thing that makes me proud is being a Co-founder of the Bulawayo Polytechnic Research Association.

Who are you outside of school and research work?
Outside work, I am a wife, a daughter, a sister, and a Catholic. I enjoy baking, traveling, singing, gardening, and flower planting. I also love golf events.

What is your favorite quote?
There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction” ~ Oprah Winfrey.

What is your word of encouragement for a young girl who wants to become a mathematical modeler?
Young women out there you are dynamites! Even if you are the only female in your section or clan never lower your standard. Push for more recognition. Nothing can stop your determination to rise.

Thank you very much, Zviiteyi, for accepting to teach us about your journey as a mathematical modeler. I believe someone out there will pick a leaf. Wishing you all the best with your Postdoc.

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