FVSU Alum Spotlight: Thelma Madzima

September 5, 2014 – This month, Fort Valley State University is featuring alum Dr. Thelma F. Madzima in our alum spotlight. Madzima is currently a post-doctoral research associate in the McGinnis Laboratory in the Department of Biological Science at Florida State University. Her research focuses on understanding how changes in chromatin (the complex of DNA and proteins in the nucleus of the cell) affect gene expression in maize.

The FVSU alum, who graduated in 2004, is currently seeking a position as an assistant professor on a college campus.

Madzima earned her doctorate in plant molecular and cellular biology (PMCB) from the University of Florida in Gainsville, Fla. in 2009. She earned her Bachelor of Science Degree in plant biotechnology from FVSU in 2004.

Madzima is originally from Zimbabwe. Her hometown, Harare, which is the capitol city of the African nation, is situated in northeastern part of the country, with a population of more than 2,800,0000 people.

During her teen years, the now 31-year-old scholar attended Gateway High School in Zimbabwe, but decided to travel overseas to pursue her undergraduate degree at FVSU. “I decided to enroll at FVSU because my sister attended college here and my aunt lived in Conyers, Ga., so at a young age it was nice to have family nearby” she said.

 Madzima studied under Dr. Sarwan Dhir, a professor of plant biotechnology and the director of the university’s Undergraduate Research Program. 

“I wouldn’t be at this point in my life if it were not for Dr. Dhir, and the program at FVSU,” Madzima said. She explained that Dhir had a good relationship with professors and scholars at other schools, and was able to help her network with scholars that had similar research interests as she did.

 As a faculty advisor and a mentor, I often look for an aptitude for research competence in my students,” said Dr. Sarwan Dhir, a professor of plant biotechnology and director of FVSU’s undergraduate research program, “Dr. Thelma Madzima stood out as a shining star and as a rising sophomore in 2003. I placed her in an internship at California Institute of Technology in Dr. Elliot Meyerowitz lab. Upon return from Caltech, Thelma became a role model for other students at FVSU. Aside from Thelma’s academic achievements it is important to touch on her presence in the classroom setting. She never settled for second best and utilized the resources available at that time to advance her academic goals. A true “Wildcat,” she has returned to FVSU numerous times to share her research as well as personal journey with FVSU students.”

 In addition to her Caltech internship, Madzima completed another at the University of Florida, and eventually decided to attend graduate school at their university.  She was immediately placed on the doctoral path after interning at the university. At the University of Florida, she conducted research in the Folta Lab. 

 Recently, Madzima returned to campus in August 2014 to speak to FVSU plant biotechnology students about her post doctoral work. It was her third visit in 10 years. Madzima says that she had a good time meeting with students and her former professors.

 “I really enjoyed talking to the students,” the scholar said.“They asked me great questions about my personal experiences as I transitioned through various academic programs. I could tell that they are seriously considering a similar career path. I encouraged them to stay in touch”  “One thing that sticks out in my mind about my visit to FVSU, was that the faculty remembered who I was,” said Madzima about her recent visit. “At first, I thought, maybe they just remembered my face, because I looked similar to another student. But, then they would say something specific that would erase all doubts. That’s the one great thing about FVSU, the professors know and remember each individual student by name, you don’t always get that at larger academic institutions.”


 The researcher says, that now, she’s almost a peer to her former professors.  She also had this advice for FVSU students pursuing the sciences.

“I would tell them, go for it,” Madzima said. “Especially to women considering careers in agricultural sciences. There are not that many black women in the plant sciences, but we bring diversity, and that’s exactly what this field needs. The work is exciting, and I wish that there were more minorty women encouraged to pursue a career in the agricultural sciences.

In the future, Madzima hopes to start her own research program.




Christina D. Milton,writer/Social Media Specialist

Fort Valley State University
Office of Marketing and Communications

(478) 822-7589, miltonc@fvsu.edu