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Samantha Muhhuku of Uganda finding her comfort zone on campus

Samantha Muhhuku
Samantha Muhhuku hails from the Republic of Uganda. She expects to earn an associate degree in Biomedical Engineering Technology in 2014.
2/25/2013 —




Samantha Muhhuku of Uganda, a freshman at Penn State New Kensington, is in a situation where she thrives and one that’s engineered for her success. Muhhuku is the first Ugandan to attend the campus, and she is the only female in the freshman class of the Biomedical Engineering Technology (BET) program, which is traditionally dominated by males.

“It doesn’t matter whether I am in a classroom full of males or females because I believe that we all have an equal chance of excelling,” said Muhhuku, who lives in the Nittany Highlands Apartments, a campus-affiliated, privately-owned housing complex adjacent to campus. “It probably is a bit of an advantage to me though because I have to make sure I am always on top of my game, so I have to make sure my grades are always up.”

Muhhuku gravitated toward the New Kensington campus because of the BET program, one of only three accredited programs in the country. Biomedical technicians operate, maintain, troubleshoot and repair medical equipment.

“I originally wanted to get into dental surgery, but during the application process, with the help of my dad, I did a little bit of research about medical related courses,” said Muhhuku, who expects to earn an associate degree in 2014.  “BET stood out as a very excellent course, so I decided to have it as my major. Penn State New Kensington is one of the best colleges in the profession.”

Muhhuku grew up in Kampala, the capital of Uganda and home to 1.7 million residents. She attended Uganda Martyrs Senior Secondary School, one of the country’s leading high schools. The 20-year-old was accepted originally into the Biomedical Laboratory Technology bachelor’s program at Makerere University, the largest university in Uganda. Had she enrolled at Makerere, 45 percent of her first-year biomedical class would have been female. She eschewed the comfortable surroundings of a big city institution of 40,000 students, and travelled 7,400 miles for the uncharted territory of the rural western Pennsylvania campus of 800 students.

“I needed to get out of my comfort zone and try out something new, build up a strong resume and have a feel of what life is like outside Uganda,” said Muhhuku, who is adapting to living so far from home. “Besides, Penn State New Kensington is one of the best colleges in the profession.”
Since matriculating in the fall, Muhhuku has found her comfort zone at the campus. She spends her leisure time participating in extra-curricular activities, watching movies and listening to music. Last semester she joined the theatre group as props manager for the student stage production of ‘The Glass Menagerie.’

“The hardest part is adapting to a whole new culture, and learning the do’s and don’ts of the new society,” said Muhhuku, whose hometown is the largest city in the country. “The best parts of campus life are the activities, like the games and movies. I have a great time at the campus.”

Samantha Muhhuku in psychology class.
Samantha Muhhuku talks with a classmate before her psychology class.

Higher education is a tradition for the Muhhuku family. Samantha is the second of seven children and her siblings include four sisters and two brothers. Her parents are college graduates. The father is a consultant for AGRA, a Tanzania-based company that specializes in sustainable agricultural growth for Africa. The mother handles the family assets and investments, and according to Samantha “makes sure everything is in order all the time.” The eldest sister will earn her bachelor’s degree this summer at Cardiff University in Wales. A younger sister recently graduated high school and is headed for college in the fall. The other Muhhuku children are still in high school or primary school.

After graduation, Muhhuku will continue her stay in the United States for a period of time to gain the training and experience in the biomedical field before embarking on an engineering career in her native country. She appreciates the support she is receiving from home and the campus.

“My family and friends have been very supportive in helping me achieve my dreams. I do not think I would get this far without them," Muhhuku said. “I would like to say thank you to everyone at PSNK who has taken interest in me and is making my stay here very pleasant.”

Muhhuku is one of a group of international students matriculating at the campus this semester. They hail from China, Ghana and India, as well as Uganda. Internationals are a growing segment of Penn State’s student population, and the New Kensington campus is doing its part in bringing in quality students from foreign countries.

The Republic of Uganda is a landlocked country located in East Africa. It is bordered by Kenya, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Tanzania. It gained its independence from Great Britain in 1962, and English is the official language.

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