EMU Student Profiles
Intelligent beyond his years
Like most Eastern Michigan University seniors, Tanaka Chavanduka is getting excited about graduation. Unlike most seniors, however, the prodigious Ann Arbor resident will be a mere 18 years old when he receives his diploma this August—a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the College of Arts and Sciences.
“Eastern has provided incredible opportunities. Last month, the psychology department and College of Arts and Sciences funded some of my trip to New York to do a poster presentation. It was an amazing experience,” says Chavanduka, who began taking college level classes through the Early College Alliance (ECA) at the tender age of 14.
The ECA, which is aligned with Michigan high school graduation requirements, partners with local school districts and is located on Eastern’s campus. Chavanduka is one of 440 area teens to enroll in the ECA since the program began in 2007, say administrators.
“In the ECA, you don’t actually attend high school, but the credits you earn apply to high school as well as college. The program has expanded my horizons and helped me grow,” says Chavanduka, adding that he received his diploma from Ann Arbor Pioneer High School in 2014—the same year he transferred to EMU as a junior.
While other universities either accepted Chavanduka’s ECA credits or offered scholarships, only EMU offered both, tipping the scales towards the Green and White. Eastern’s professors, who were instrumental in helping the gifted teen fine tune his career focus, were another selling point, he says.
“I had an epiphany during a lecture in Strong Hall. There I sat, a scrawny pubescent listening to the professor talk about the difference between psychiatry and psychology, when suddenly my career path became clear—I realized I wanted to go into psychology,” says Chavanduka, who has always been fascinated by the human mind.
“Whenever people asked me what I wanted to do, I’d say, ‘help others.’ Then it occurred to me that helping the human mind would help others, because the mind is the source of many problems,” he says.
According to EMU Assistant Professor of Neuroscience Joseph Breza, Chavanduka is a model student with emotional and intellectual intelligence beyond his years. “I expect tremendous things from him in the future, and I’m not the only one,” says Breza.
As if graduating four years earlier than most students wasn’t remarkable enough, the resilient teen accomplished this milestone as a relative newcomer to America. In 2001, when Chavanduka was 4 years old, his father and mother sought asylum in America because of political persecution in their native Zimbabwe. The family, including Chavanduka’s sister and twin brother, first lived in Boston then moved to Ann Arbor, where his uncle, Peter Chiweshe (BA99) lived at the time.
“Eastern has been the source of many opportunities. I’m so grateful,” Chavanduka says.
Not only is the talented teen wrapping up his undergraduate degree, he’s currently exploring graduate school options. Ultimately, he hopes to obtain a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and work as a practicing clinician and researcher.
by Linda Hass