Santita Ebangwese ’19, G’20 approaches life with great enthusiasm tempered by careful planning. During her junior year of high school in Rochester, New York, she started hearing from college coaches who were interested in her exceptional abilities on the volleyball court. As thrilling as the idea of playing Division I sports was, she was determined to attend a school that would also fulfill her academic aspirations. “I understood that this was a big decision, so I created a score sheet and added a multiplier to aspects of each school that I felt to be important,” she says. “I also tried to imagine myself walking around campus, going to class and making it my home—Syracuse University took the cake!”
“I loved the people I encountered on my visit to Syracuse, and the fields of study available. I saw myself making a life and connections here,” she remembers. “I also loved the girls on the volleyball team—they were very welcoming. Syracuse had a lot to offer, and the rest is history.”
Achievements and Accolades
Ebangwese distinguished herself at Syracuse beyond even her own imagining. She was an All-American who helped the Orange to their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance in volleyball, and in 2018 led the country in hitting percentage on the court. In 2019, Ebangwese learned that she was nominated for the 2019 NCAA Woman of the Year Award, which honors women who have achieved excellence in academics, athletics and in their communities. She was named a 2019 University Scholar, the highest honor bestowed on a Syracuse University undergraduate, and was also a member of the Renée Crown University Honors Program, a recipient of NCAA and ACC Postgraduate Scholarships, 2018 ACC Volleyball Scholar-Athlete of the Year and four-time ACC All-Academic Team selection.
In 2020, Ebangwese completed a five-year bachelor’s-to-master’s program in biomedical engineering through the College of Engineering and Computer Science. Her undergraduate degree includes a minor in French and Francophone Studies through the College of Arts and Sciences.
“I chose bioengineering because it incorporated math, chemistry, anatomy and physiology and physics,” Ebangwese says. “I have an interest in orthopedics, and right now my dream job is to become an orthopedic surgeon specializing in hips. Using stem cell engineering, I’d recreate cartilage to remediate the need for artificial implants.” But even with that degree of specificity, Ebangwese weighed her options. “I need to see all the rotations before I make a decision,” she said.
The scope of her studies and the opportunities she had to explore interests at Syracuse opened up unlimited possibilities while she was a student. “I worked at Upstate Medical University as a scribe, volunteered in the emergency department and tutored Somalian refugees,” she says. “I used computational modeling to demonstrate the behavior of specific transmembrane proteins in Dr. Shikha Nangia’s lab, and this research helped create my honors thesis.” Ebangwese expanded upon that work for her master’s thesis.
“As a student at Syracuse University, I could go to any of my professors and sit down and have a conversation, knowing they had a vested interest in me as a person,” Ebangwese remembers. “The people in career services in the School of Engineering, my honors advisors, Dr. Amy Wyngaard in the French department—I can’t say enough about the people I encountered at Syracuse!”
By necessity, Ebangwese had to master the balancing act between academics and athletics during her time at Syracuse University. “It was truly a group effort, and my amazing support system kept me sane,” she said. “I created goals for myself and discussed them with my coaches to help me manage my time. I examined the way I learned for each course and came up with ways I needed to study in order to be successful in the least amount of time. I created daily to-do lists and schedules, and was notorious for waking up at 6 a.m. on away trips to do homework. I used any extra time to get work done.”
Travel and Research
Ebangwese managed to squeeze in a six-week Syracuse Abroad summer trip to Strasbourg, France, where she completed an engineering internship at the National Institute for Applied Sciences (INSA). “My project gave me my first real taste of research, but my true motivation was to travel around France and ameliorate my French language skills,” she said. “I spoke mostly in French with my host family, and they helped me with vocabulary and syntax. I loved living in France and couldn’t wait to go back and become completely fluent.”
I’m an athlete, plain and simple, and an opportunity to continue being a student-athlete while earning my master’s just seemed to fit.—Santita Ebangwese ’19, G’20
After earning her undergraduate degree and competing for four years on the volleyball team, Ebangwese utilized an NCAA rule that allows student-athletes to compete in a fifth year of intercollegiate athletics in a different sport while pursuing a master’s degree. She transitioned to the soccer team for fall 2019 to play for the Orange and first-year head coach Nicky Adams. “I’m an athlete, plain and simple, and an opportunity to continue being a student-athlete while earning my master’s just seemed to fit,” she says.
The accolades Ebangwese received as a student-athlete and Academic All-American were gratifying, but nothing surpassed being nominated for the NCAA Woman of the Year Award. “I was deeply honored that the athletic department felt I represented the ideals of academic excellence, community service, athletic achievement and leadership,” Ebangwese admits. “And I was overwhelmingly surprised and overjoyed when I was awarded an NCAA postgraduate scholarship. It reaffirmed my belief that I am truly blessed. My parents emigrated to the U.S. from Cameroon, and they sacrificed so much throughout my childhood to provide me with the resources that helped me get ahead. The environment they created allowed me to have a strong sense of identity and pushed me to do my best. The truth is, I would not be the person I am today without my support system. It really does take a village.”
This story was updated on December 21, 2021.