Charlesworth (Charles) Mabheka is a strong presence on the BMCC campus. He’s gregarious, he’s enthusiastic, and he has a huge personality to match his huge heart.
Although he graduated from BMCC in 2008 with a degree in Business Administration, he’s still a part of the BMCC community, working as a tutor for the Learning Resource Center and College Discovery program.
Inside every BMCC student and graduate is a story, and Mabheka is no exception. This year, he received two very coveted fellowships through the CUNY Baccalaureate (CUNY BA) program: The Thomas W. Smith and Colin Powell fellowships.
CUNY BA offers highly motivated, academically strong students the opportunity to design individualized programs of study. Through the CUNY BA program, Mabheka is studying International Relations and Global Public Health Policy at CUNY City College and Hunter College, respectively.
The Thomas W. Smith and Colin Powell Fellowships are available exclusively to CUNY BA students. Mabheka submitted—to both fellowships as part of the application process—heartfelt, personal essays about the loss of his mother, sister and nephew, who sadly lost their lives to cholera.
The Thomas W. Smith fellowship
Established in 1994, the Thomas W. Smith Academic Fellowships are funded through a generous donation by Thomas W. Smith to CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies to recognize students’ academic excellence within the program.
Eligibility requirements include successful completion of at least 48 credits with at least six credits earned in CUNY Baccalaureate, as well as recommendation by a faculty mentor.
Typically, 25 awards are given each year. Awards of $2,400 per semester are made to full-time students (minimum 12 credits per semester) and $1,200-$1,800 per semester to part-time students (6-11 credits per semester).
The Colin Powell Fellowship
Founded by former United States Secretary of State Colin Powell, the Colin Powell Program in Leadership and Public Service, enables The City College of New York (CUNY CCNY) students to develop a deep understanding of policy concerns and public problems.
The son of Jamaican immigrants, Colin Powell is a 1958 graduate of The City College of New York. In 1997, he launched the Colin Powell Center for Policy Studies to “prepare a new generation of American leaders who reflect the broad mosaic that is our country’s strength,” states his official Web site.
The fellowship provides scholarship support (between $10,000 and $12,000 annually) for two years. Students accepted into the Colin Powell Program in Leadership and Public Service gain a broad knowledge of political institutions and the policy-making process and learn about public service careers and opportunities.
A semester-long service-learning project in the first year allows students to link classroom knowledge with concrete service projects in the community. During the second year, fellows complete a capstone project that includes a significant research paper written with the assistance of a mentor.
Mabheka's personal journey
Mabheka grew up in Harare, Zimbabwe, and came to the United States as a young man.
One day he was casually checking his email at a BMCC computer kiosk when he received a heartbreaking email from a family member back home in his native Harare.
“I remember it was during BMCC registration when I read the email about my mother, sister and nephew,” says Mabheka, who sadly lost his mother, sister and nephew on the same day—January 29, 2009—due to cholera. “I didn’t know what to do. I think some students around me noticed something was wrong—and I had to deal with my brain,” he says of the emotions that hit him at once.
The last time he saw his mother and sister, not long before they passed away, he lovingly embraced them both before returning to New York.
“My mother was feeling fine,” he recalls.
Picking up the pieces
Mabheka wasn’t sure what his next step would be, academically, when he heard about the unfortunate passing of his relatives. But he persevered.
“My acceptance into the CUNY BA program opened doors, and made me realize I wanted to study health issues in today’s global world,” he says.
“Zimbabwe is under economic sanctions, so they’ve had sanitation problems, including a lack of medication. There was a big cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe in 2008 to 2009. The country has had tremendous hardships, and my mom had no access to healthcare because private doctors are expensive,” explains Mabheka. “This greatly affected me, so I decided to divert the pain into creating my own majors through the CUNY BA program because I am fascinated by the study of global health.
The blessing in disguise
Mabheka says his family tragedy was actually an inspiration; a blessing in disguise.
“So, for my Thomas W. Smith application essay, I wrote about my family tragedy. I wrote from my heart and said ‘This is my true story’.”
In March 2010, at a professor’s suggestion, Mabheka applied for the Colin Powell fellowship. The requirements are similar to Thomas W. Smith fellowship, but for the essay, “you write about a global issue you’re interested in,” says Mabheka. “I decided to write about poverty since I want to help alleviate poverty in Africa. I wrote about how poverty in Zimbabwe affected me, and my family, directly.”
Mabheka has many goals and dreams, and sees himself working in Zimbabwe as a global citizen, or perhaps working for a world health organization. “I want to be able to help everyone across boundaries,” he says. “Not just in Zimbabwe.
Sanctions affect citizens
In March 2011, Mabheka will be speaking at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) at Ithaca College.
As a student in the Macaulay Honors College course at CUNY this semester, Mabheka is currently writing a thesis; his research focuses on the impact of sanctions, specifically in the case of Zimbabwe.
In recent years, sanctions have been imposed on Zimbabwe by the European Union (EU) and United States.
At NCUR, he will argue that “sanctions frequently miss their intended target and damage the very groups they are intended to help. They do not hurt the economic and political elites. They target the vulnerable groups and civilians at large, therefore impoverishing the already impoverished.”
In other words, putting sanctions on a country to punish their leader doesn’t hurt the leader, he argues, but hurts the citizens.
Like his mother.
Mabheka’s mission has impressed his mentors, many of whom encourage him to make a difference in the world—especially when it comes to health issues.
“I’m a global person,” says Mabheka. “In fact, BMCC Vice President of Student Affairs Marva Craig once advised me to ‘go out there and be a global citizen,’ and that’s what I am doing, and plan to keep doing.”
Kim Hartswick, Academic Director of the CUNY BA program, mentors Mabheka, calling him “one of the most remarkable students I have met in my more than three decades in academe.”
“From the traumatic lose of his mother, sister and nephew in the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe in 2009, Charles has emerged as one of the most outspoken advocates of human rights and public health, particularly for the people of his home country,” Hartswick praises.
Advice for international students
Mabheka wants international BMCC students to know that there are plenty of opportunities for them within the CUNY system.
“As an international student, you must work really hard to achieve your goals. You’re coming from a foreign country to receive a quality education. You have to focus and know the CUNY resources, and research various scholarships,” he says.
He strongly encourages international students to apply for various fellowships.
Meeting a mentor
Mabheka is proud of the fellowships he received since they gave him the opportunity to meet so many people who have offered him words of encouragement and guidance throughout his time in the CUNY BA program.
“I met Thomas Smith,” said Mabheka, who took a picture with the generous donor. “When we recipients received our awards at The CUNY Graduate Center, Mr. Smith was so humble, telling us we deserved these fellowships and that he wants us to succeed. I was so excited to see him that I hugged him,” says Mabheka. “I also sent him a thank you letter."
When he’s not studying, tutoring, or speaking from the heart about meaningful manners, Mabheka volunteers at The International Rescue Committee (IRC), located in midtown Manhattan.
As part of the Colin Powell fellowship, every Saturday throughout the academic year, he tutors high school students who are refugees from other countries.
“Most of these students speak French. I help them with their homework and their English,” says Mabheka. “These students are international students, like me, and I can relate to them. I love helping students. That’s my passion.”
Founded in 1933 by scientist Albert Einstein, the IRC offers lifesaving care and life-changing assistance to refugees forced to flee from war or disaster.
“I want these students to know, I started at BMCC, and then I went ‘anywhere’ through the CUNY BA program,” says Mabheka. “And now, like the BMCC slogan says, I’m continuing to ‘go anywhere,’ and grow anywhere, as an international student. And they can, too.”