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NOVA graduate thrives academically despite challenges

Martha Gizaw

In May 2017, NOVA student Martha Gizaw will be taking the first step toward achieving her goal to become the first African-American female to earn a doctorate in computational neuroscience. With an impressive 3.92 GPA, she’ll receive two associate’s degrees in science and computer science. Prior to enrolling at the Woodbridge Campus in Fall 2015, Gizaw was not a fan of public speaking. Now, as the recipient of the 2017 Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, she believes NOVA has changed her life.

Born in Texas, Gizaw’s path to academic success wasn’t easy. At an early age she was diagnosed with mild autism. Growing up in a single-parent household, she helped to care for her younger siblings with special needs. Although at times she experienced challenges, she remained focused on her studies and ranked seven out of 388 students in her graduating class at Freedom High School in Woodbridge. At the time Gizaw wasn’t sure if she was ready to attend a four-year university. She first began her journey at NOVA as the recipient of the 2015 NOVA Honors Program Scholarship - a $10,000 scholarship ($2,500 per semester) that assists students with the cost of tuition toward a NOVA degree. She was also selected into NOVA’s Pathway to the Baccalaureate program and received the Richard D. Semmler Pathway Service Scholarship, based on her community service efforts as a Pathway student. As she eagerly anticipates becoming a NOVA graduate in May, Gizaw said attending NOVA was one of the best decisions she has ever made.

“NOVA is more than just a community college for me to attend classes weekly, it really helped me to overcome so many things, like public speaking,” Gizaw said. “Having an associate degree from NOVA will open doors for me to pursue my goals of becoming a computational neuroscientist. Based on my own personal experiences with autism, I want to devote a life-long career to conducting research and utilizing technology to help adults overcome the disorder.”  

As a full-time student, Gizaw saw a need to create an autism awareness club at the Woodbridge Campus, where she serves as founder and president to educate and offer student support. She also is a member of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) Honor Society, Women in Search of Excellence (WISE), the Woodbridge Campus Honor’s Club and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars (NSCS). Gizaw plans to transfer to a four-year university and is considering George Mason University, College of William and Mary, Johns Hopkins University and Georgetown University.


Media Contact: Kristina Ogburn | 703.503.6338 | kogburn@nvcc.edu



Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through NOVA Online. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site, www.nvcc.edu.