We had an opportunity to sit down with Sharonda Chiangong, a PICS senior, following the Global Environment and Health subplan and minoring in Music, who recently had the opportunity to speak at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium this year on January 16th. We sat down with her to learn more about her background, as well as her experience speaking at the event. 

Sharonda’s time at U-M thus far has been “an experience” as she likes to call it. She started her degree with the hope of becoming a clinical pharmacist. With that in mind, she began taking the required introductory biology and chemistry courses. During these pre-requisite courses, and amidst the height of the pandemic, she realized that she in fact did not want to become a pharmacist. While researching other options, she discovered her interest in epidemiology, leading her to apply to the U-M School of Public Health. Despite not being accepted, Sharonda knew she still wanted to pursue the study of infectious disease and felt declaring her major as International Studies would best position her to do so.  Her desire to study infectious disease comes from her heritage in Cameroon and the widespread presence of both malaria and cholera there, two prominent diseases that have spread within her community. With this degree she hopes to give back. 

Sharonda has appreciated the opportunities that her U-M education provides, allowing her to try new things and take different research-based courses. As a speaker of English, Spanish, and French, Sharonda has enjoyed the flexible nature of the International Studies Major that allows her to take various language courses across her many interests. Looking back at her undergrad experience, we asked her to share what advice she would give to her freshman self and she shared: “I would tell myself to have some type of goal or roadmap of how you’re going to get where you’re trying to go.”  

One of these new opportunities was for Sharonda to speak at the MLK Symposium this past January. Her thorough preparation was demonstrated through her performance and confidence during her speech. In order to prepare for this opportunity, she met with her supervisor on several occasions to ensure that she felt comfortable on stage and exemplified a strong presence.  This was the second MLK Symposium that she took part in, however, it was her first in-person Symposium. Her deep interests in both social justice and diversity education made this an opportunity she could not decline.

When asked what advice Sharonda would give to students interested in opportunities such as the MLK Symposium, she responded: “Go for it! You learn a lot. For [the MLK Symposium], I learned about the behind the scenes of who [Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.] was, how he thought, how he conversed, how he agreed and disagreed with Malcolm X and other leaders. The impact is there and you learn more than you think you’ll learn”. We are excited to see what lies ahead for Sharonda in the future!