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Mwamba Muntanga Helps Fellow African Students Pursue Their U.S. Dreams

Muntanga’s classmates laughed at him when he said he dreamt of attending college in America—read how he's thriving, striving and opening doors for others

By Mónica Hernández Williams

Mwamba Mutanga smiling.

Mwamba Muntanga ’25 came to Whitman College with one goal: to earn a degree that would get him a good job.

The youngest of five, Muntanga grew up in Lusaka, Zambia. He saw his parents and older siblings work in manual labor and hospitality. He knew he wanted more. So did his mother.

“My mom constantly told me that education is the only way to get out,” says Muntanga. “She was very upfront. She would say, ‘Yo, Mwamba, you’re not good at manual labor. You’re not suited for factory work. You need to get out of this. The only way is if you pay attention in school.’ That was it for me.”

After completing primary school, he landed a scholarship that allowed him to go to high school. It was there that his Whitman journey began.

Challenges & Changes

Muntanga’s high school prioritized giving back. Its mantra “whatever we invest in you, take it and invest it in someone else” stuck with him along with another core memory.

“In the tenth grade, I had a professor ask the class who wanted to go to university. I raised my hand and said I wanted to go to college in the United States, and the whole class laughed,” Muntanga says. “I was so embarrassed, but I knew they laughed because it was unheard of. I am actually the first person from my high school to go to college in the U.S.”

Soon after, he attended an information session at the U.S. Embassy to learn how the admission process works and began applying.

“I applied to a lot of colleges, and none of them accepted me. I was like ‘Oh my God. What am I going to do now?’”

So he did research and sent emails to the colleges and universities he was interested in. Muntanga quickly learned he needed to stand out. 

Realizing other students could also benefit from his newfound knowledge, he began sharing what he learned and even helped another Zambian land a scholarship and gain admission into a university in Rwanda.

Seizing Opportunity

Through that process, Muntanga discovered his passion for helping others with similar dreams. He took a gap year and started the nonprofit Education24—offering one-on-one mentorship that guides low-income students from sub-Saharan African countries through the college application process. Since he works alone, the students he advises must be high-achieving.


When the time came for him to, once again, submit his own college applications, Muntanga was accepted to more than one. It came down to Whitman and another school—an Ivy League—but after speaking with members of the campus community, Muntanga knew he’d thrive at Whitman.

“I spoke with Professor Álvaro Santana-Acuña in the Sociology Department. He told me I’d become a good sociologist no matter where I went, but he encouraged me to consider Whitman, the support I’d get and the people here,” he says. 

“I thought about how everyone was really supportive. In each interaction I had, I could tell the staff, the students and the professors I spoke with … they all really cared and wanted to see me succeed. That was the deciding factor.”

Once on campus, Muntanga committed to majoring in Sociology with a focus in education. He’s recently started taking courses in Whitman’s new concentration, Human-Centered Design—learning about design thinking to solve real-world problems.

He joined student clubs and organizations like the Associated Students of Whitman College and the planning committee for Taste of Africa—making the most of opportunities that would get him closer to his next dream.

During his first year at Whitman, Muntanga’s efforts secured more than $2 million in student scholarships for his nonprofit by winning the prestigious Mwape Peer Education Excellence Award.

Advocating for Education

Securing funding to enhance and expand Education24 remains at the top of Muntanga’s list.

During his first year at Whitman, Muntanga’s efforts secured more than $2 million in student scholarships for his nonprofit by winning the prestigious Mwape Peer Education Excellence Award. This honor recognizes Africans worldwide who overcome odds and make a difference through their creativity, energy and unwavering determination.

As a sophomore, Muntanga was encouraged by the Career and Community Engagement Center to apply to the Clinton Foundation’s Global Initiative University (CGIU). Fellow Whittie Ashifi Gogo ’05—and a CGIU alum—successfully guided him through the process.

“It felt amazing to be in a space filled with brilliant and solution-oriented minds from around the globe, all of whom are committed to bettering their communities and making the world better,” Muntanga says.

While at the summit, he participated in the CGIU Exchange Event, where he reaffirmed his commitment to make education accessible to underprivileged and underrepresented students in sub-Saharan Africa. He was also selected as one of 100 students worldwide to participate in the Fishbowl Challenge, which empowers young entrepreneurs to make a global social impact—and finished in the top 10.

For the Love of Future Generations

Throughout his time at Whitman, Muntanga has continued to mentor students back in Africa—three of whom have joined him at Whitman.

“It’s been hard because of the time difference so I’m up at 1 a.m. talking to students in Zambia, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Nigeria and Ghana about the college application process, reviewing their personal statements, and helping them pick the right schools,” he says. “I do it all for free but encourage them to give back by doing what they can for the next person.”

Since launching his nonprofit in 2020, Muntanga has successfully advised 15 students and counting to gain admission into a wide range of colleges in the United States and Africa. For him, this is only the beginning.

“In 50 years, I want to buy a big piece of land, build a campus, then bring in students and prepare them for college and give them leadership training so they are more equipped when the time comes to apply for university,” he says.

After graduation, Muntanga hopes to get a job in Whitman’s Office of Admission before attending grad school.

“My mom has passed, but I know she is really proud,” he says. “I didn’t have a figure to look up to growing up, but I told myself I would be that role model for my family. I want my nieces and nephews to think, ‘Mwamba went to college. Not just any college, he went to one of the best liberal arts colleges in the United States. If he did it, we can too.’” 

Published on May 24, 2024
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