Ashinaga Scholars: A Day in the Life (Part 4)


December 12, 2016 — A hurricane can’t stop Sibandze Zandile. As a freshman at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the world’s largest and perhaps best-known university specializing in aviation and aerospace, Zandile — or “Pepe” — has flourished in spite of difficult problem sets, a brand new culture and environment, and Hurricane Matthew.


Born in Manzini, Swaziland as the fourth of nine girls, Pepe has tread her own path since she was young. While her sisters would spend time with their mother, Pepe liked being with her dad. He would teach her how to do “manly” things, like tending to livestock. He wanted her to fulfill his dream of becoming an engineer. She remembers loving airplanes early on: She would bring a toy airplane to school but would play with it in the bathroom because, no, girls just didn’t do that kind of thing.


However, life for Pepe did not proceed smoothly. When she was eleven, her father died from pneumonia. In school, Pepe was good at math and science but she encountered significant discrimination from her teachers because, she was told, girls weren’t supposed to be good at such courses.


Not only did Pepe persevere despite these tough circumstances, she excelled because of them. She says that she actually likes being a female in male-dominated environments — it motivates her to work even harder. Indeed, the negative messaging from her teachers seemed to have the opposite effect: Her scores on the national secondary exams were the sixth highest in all of Swaziland, prompting her to be interviewed on national TV and invited by local secondary schools as a motivational speaker.


Unsurprisingly, as a freshman at Embry Riddle, Pepe is thriving. Just a few months into school, Pepe is already a member of Engineering Without Borders, the National Society of Black Engineers, and the African Student Association. She has been recognized by the International Student Programming Council for her “professionalism, talent, and sincerity.” And she has done all this in addition to a rigorous academic workload. Her favorite class is Introduction to Engineering (EGR 101) because it is all about designing spacecrafts, aircrafts, and satellites, which she especially enjoys. She also recently gave an oral presentation on the basics of rocket propulsion.


Ashinaga USA looks forward to supporting Pepe as she continues to succeed in spite of literal and metaphorical hurricanes.