Mahlet Abera ’08
Major: Biology and Health Sciences
Mahlet Abera puts it this way: ”If I can come from Ethiopia and feel comfortable at Guilford College, you can feel at home here too.”
If feeling “comfortable” is measured in terms of academic and personal growth, then Mahlet has succeeded almost beyond measure. Having graduated from Guilford, she now is heading to graduate school to being earning a Ph.D. Mahlet applied to graduate schools at Duke, Cornell, the University of Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt and the Mayo Clinic, and she was admitted to all of them.
She chose to pursue the doctorate in pharmacology at the University of Pennsylvania partly because she likes the size of Philadelphia, but chiefly because the university has, as she describes it, “an excellent program with great depth – many areas of study and about 80 professors. Also, it’s ranked #3 in the nation for pharmacology, after Harvard and Johns Hopkins.”
Naturally, even being admitted into a graduate program at an Ivy League school is no small accomplishment. “During the summer after my junior year at Guilford College, I served an internship doing research at the University of Michigan. The people at the University of Pennsylvania said that the recommendation I turned in from the principal investigator at Michigan, combined with the excellent letters of recommendation from the Guilford College professors, made me someone they wanted in the Penn program.”
In fact, the internship at Michigan – which Mahlet earned with help from her academic advisor at Guilford – was one of only four awarded in the whole country. Keep in mind that she had left her home in Addis Ababa only three short years before, having never been to America before.
“Actually,” she adds, “I was the first person in my family to go to the States. I enrolled at Guilford without having a chance to visit the school first. Deep down I wanted to broaden my perspective and learn about the other side of the world,” she says, adding that she didn’t realize the enormity of her decision until she got here. And now? “I’m proud of myself for doing it and proud of my parents for supporting that decision. There is no question that it changed my life.”
When she arrived at Guilford College, Mahlet took English 101. “Even though I had studied English in Ethiopia, my study was all grammar-based,” she says. “I had never written an essay in English, as we were asked to do in English 101. I struggled.” When the first paper came back with a “C” grade, Mahlet went to talk to the professor.
“The professor told me that students could rewrite their papers to improve their grade, if they chose to. So I rewrote mine… many times. A tutor from the College helped me, and the professor even came to meetings on Saturdays to help. Eventually I got my grade up, and in English 102 I wrote even more. By the time I graduated, I had overcome my fear of writing in English – I am confident that I know how to put ideas together and to do critical writing effectively.”
“The training and experiences I received were life-changing,” she attests, confirming that being able to present posters and papers – and make oral presentations – at professional conferences gave her solid public presentation skills that dovetailed with the inter-personal communication skills she was acquiring through volunteer work.
Mahlet now has a plan that will bring together her personal and professional goals: ”I plan to pursue a career in drug discovery, primarily because I like the science. And Guilford College taught me that there are right reasons to make decisions – I have learned that science brings out the best in me, and I’ll make a difference that way. I want to contribute to women’s rights, to working for equality, to helping those who are not empowered. And I have learned that I can achieve the most when I am involved in science.”
It sounds like “Dr.” Mahlet Abera – which she will be, just a few years from now – will use her potential to help us all.