Student Highlight: Fitia Razafimanjato
An international student from Madagascar majoring in Nutritional Sciences
Chances are good that the majority of students, faculty, and staff at TTU have never met anyone from Madagascar. In fact, in these geography-challenged times, most people probably know about this beautiful island, the fourth largest in the world, only because of the computer-animated DreamWorks film series that follows the adventures of four Central Park Zoo animals who are unexpectedly shipped back to Africa. Fitia Razafimanjato, a student assistant in the Office of the Vice President for Research, is a proud Malagasy who came to America to pursue an education. She is a nutritional science major with a concentration in pre-dental, and after graduating in May of 2015 she hopes to go to dental school. After earning her DDS, she wants to return to Madagascar and share with her fellow Malagasy citizens all that she has learned and experienced through her studies and experiences.
The first school in the United States that Fitia attended was Abilene Christian University, where she studied English for 1 ½ semesters (she is fluent in Malagasy and French). She then went to Cisco College for two years. After graduating from Cisco College in 2012 she looked for a four-year college at which to complete her degree, and Texas Tech was the first university that responded to her inquiries. Not only did Tech offer the quickest response, the University also offered her the best financial package. She adds that the faculty members within the Nutrition Department in the College of Human Sciences were the deciding factor, noting that they believed in and encouraged her every step of the way. Their knowledgeable responses to her questions and the warmth of their welcome quickly made her realize that TTU was where she needed to be. Fitia stresses that "people make the place," and she has nothing but kudos for the outstanding faculty and advisors whom it has been her pleasure to know. "They really care about the students," she says.
Participating in the Summer Research Institute offered at Texas Tech University has been one of Fitia's proudest accomplishments. She writes, "The key objective of the program was to lead graduate students at TTU into future potential research. Forty students from different universities were selected for this intensive research program, with a variety of majors in STEM. The students had the opportunity to work on projects with faculty mentors in their area of interest. My project consisted of analyzing and studying the effect of omega-3 polyunsaturated acid on brown adipose tissue. I had the opportunity to work alongside an outstanding advisor, Dr. Naima Moustaid-Moussa from the nutrition sciences department. Dr. Moustaid-Moussa showed tremendous support and demonstrated great leadership to the students. She personally challenged me to perform at my best, and she also encouraged and assisted me through my hardships. I was honored to receive the 'The Cash Family Award for the Best Contribution in Medicine' at the end of the research program. I learned a lot about myself, the value of hard and ethical work, the importance of teamwork, and more, through this program. It was an unforgettable experience."
In spite of her academic successes and the close friends she has made, Fitia, like most students far away from home, has also experienced her fair share of homesickness. Her eyes light up when she describes the beauty of Madagascar's flora and fauna, and she notes with pride that 70% of Madagascar's animal species and 90% of its native plants are found nowhere else in the world. It is possible to drive from rainforest to desert in a single day, and the island is known for its lemurs, beaches, flower markets, sapphire mines, stands of exotic baobab and rosewood trees, and the "Coton du Tulear" (a lovely little dog of the Bichon type). She particularly misses the food from home, and when she describes the wonderfully fresh fruits and vegetables available in the markets it is almost as if she can almost taste them. A Malagasy delicacy that she particularly misses is tender, well-seasoned beef tongue with a fresh tomato sauce, although she admits that her beef-eating Texan friends have all cringed at the very thought of eating tongue (even though many of them wouldn't think twice about eating Rocky Mountain oysters)! Fitia also points out that there is no fast food on Madagascar—no KFC, no McDonald's, no Burger King—and everything is prepared fresh from scratch.
When she first came to Tech she was a bit overwhelmed by the number of student organizations and had difficulty deciding which one to join—until she discovered Students for Global Connections (SGC). She states, "I love the idea that it's a global connection meant to unify the international communities." When asked which SGC project she recalls most fondly, she thinks long and hard before settling on the World Wide Showcase. Being part of such a major undertaking was hard at first, she says, but she cherishes the fact that the relationships she built while working under pressure with students from around the world will last a lifetime. She advises students to remain open to the many great opportunities at Texas Tech, work hard, and persevere. Even though she misses her family, Texas Tech has become her home away from home, and she exclaims, "I am so proud to be a Red Raider!" It is clear that Fitia has enjoyed her years at Texas Tech, and undoubtedly this international Red Raider will take the spirit of "From Here It's Possible" back home with her to Madagascar when she graduates this spring.