Mary Yohannes stands in Goddard Library

Mary Yohannes ’19 puts her heart into cardiology and STEM education

July 6, 2018

“My experience and success in any place depends on how fit that space is for me,” says Mary Teketel Yohannes ’19. She found her fit at Clark University.  

A native of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Yohannes is pursuing a degree in biology, concentrating in mathematical biology and bioinformatics, with plans for a career in medicine. “I have always been interested in a career in cardiology, particularly cardiovascular surgery,” she says.

In her time at Clark, Yohannes has been a student, a teacher, and a researcher. She’s also ventured outside New England, interning at the University of Florida following her sophomore year (“I needed to defrost from Worcester’s snow,” she cracks). There, as an assistant lab technician in the Entomology and Nematology Department, Yohannes learned basic research techniques that applied to root staining and greenhouse assays. The department’s work ultimately assisted farmers with the proper application of pesticides on their fields while also reducing the cost of their pesticide purchases.

Prior to her Florida internship, Yohannes found a new area of interest at Clark: mathematical biology and bioinformatics (MBB). “I want to go to medical school and, though biology is usually the ideal major to have, I don’t enjoy it as much as math and computer science. MBB interests me because it combines my career goal with my academic interest,” she says.

In a directed study with Nathan Ahlgren, assistant professor of biology, this spring, Yohannes learned specialized R programming for statistical and graphical data, both critical pieces to her MBB studies.

This summer, she’s continuing to gain experience to bolster her chances of getting into medical school by working as a data entry clerk at University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry.

“After graduating, I plan to work in bioinformatics for a year or two before applying to medical school,” she notes.

But Yohannes has learned that her career is just a piece of a bigger picture. “Looking back to who I was when I first came to Clark and the person I am now, I can say that I have grown immensely,” she says. “My time at Clark has taught me to be a positive and open-minded person. I have learned so much about myself and my values.” Among those values is her strong faith. Yohannes credits Clark’s Intervarsity Christian Fellowship with helping her make lifelong friendships and as a place that she says “has created a space for me where I feel at home and free to be me.”

When she’s not studying, spending time with friends, or working with Residential Life and Housing, where she’s been a resident adviser since the spring of her sophomore year, Yohannes has found fulfillment as an instructor in African Community Education (ACE), a nonprofit for refugee and immigrant children in Worcester.

“I found ACE through my friend, Rose Wine [’20]. When a Saturday STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] teacher position opened up last fall, she encouraged me to apply.”

Yohannes pursued an ACE internship because she believed she could offer students a different way of learning. She likes to reach students through real-world examples and experimentation.

“Sometimes STEM concepts can be intimidating and abstruse,” Yohannes says.

But as daunting as the subject matter may be, STEM pales in comparison to the hardships her students have already faced. “Thinking about the things my students might have gone through in their childhood, and seeing them smile now despite all that, has been encouraging and humbling,” she says. “I went in thinking that I would only teach them, but in the process my students taught me to be strong and persistent.”

Yohannes recalls one heartbreaking conversation with a girl who, with her brother, entered into foster care after their mother died; their father still lives in Rwanda.

“She was one of the brightest students in my class, and I never thought she’d gone through that. Even though we both come from the same continent, we’ve had different experiences. Having that conversation made me realize how fortunate I am,” she says.

“I have realized that I love working with young children. I could possibly incorporate that interest with [my medical aspirations] or just pursue them separately in the future. At this point, anything could happen.”

As freeing as it must feel to have multiple avenues to success, Yohannes hopes all roads lead to Ethiopia. “Eventually I plan on going back home and working there,” she says. “There are numerous ways I can contribute to the improvement of my country’s healthcare system and its development as a whole.”