Clarkie of the Week: Mary Yohannes


Rose Wine Photography

Giulia Elena Casella, News Editor

Mary Yohannes (’19) is a biology major with a concentration in mathematical biology and bioinformatics, and she is on a pre-med track. She sat down with The Scarlet to talk about Ethiopia, being a STEM teacher, InterVarsity, doing research on nematodes, and potatoes.

Scarlet: Where’s home?

Mary: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It means “new flower.” The capital used to be another place, but then they brought it to this mountainous area. They saw this beautiful view, and they made it the capital.

Scarlet: What do you miss most about home?

Mary: Oh my god, everything [laughs]. The community definitely. Back home, you know your neighbors. When you have a celebration, you go out and call them. Like, “come have a meal with me!” One of the symbolic ways is “gursha,” so when you’re eating, you would roll it and feed it to other people. Other times, when we’re sitting down and eating, if people pass by you say “come, let’s eat!” Even if you don’t want them to eat you still have to say it [laughs]. And speaking my own language — I can express myself well because it’s my first language. And the jokes… Oh my god, the jokes. Jokes in my language are funny, but when you turn them into English they’re not funny [laughs]. Family is definitely one of them. And the weather… Oh my god, the weather. I hate the weather here, it’s too cold. Back home, it’s sunny and nice all year round. Food too. Good homemade food, definitely.

Scarlet: Why did you come to Clark?

Mary: Because Clark gave me a lot of money [laughs]. No for real though, it was the first school that accepted me, but it was my safe school. Then I got in, and out of all the schools that I got accepted to, Clark was the one that gave me a good scholarship, but also had a good science program.

Scarlet: Has Clark lived up to your expectations?

Mary: No, I thought it was a city school. Because I grew up in the capital, I wanted to go to a big school in the city … My experience in the U.S. in general didn’t meet my expectations. As an international student, you have this idea of what a college would be like or what the U.S. would be like in general because you see all these movies. There are places back home that are more developed than here. It just opens your eyes. And I’m really glad that I came to the U.S. because I got to see that. And in another way, I’m glad that I didn’t go to a bigger school. My sister goes to a big school and she barely has time with her professors. And the fact that it’s such a small campus is actually really convenient. And I met a lot of people … That’s what I realized: the more you get involved, the more your experience becomes better.

Scarlet: I know that you teach off campus, what exactly do you do?

Mary: Yes, so I’m a STEM teacher for the Saturday program at African Community Education (ACE). It’s an organization that provides after-school programs and Saturday programs for African refugees. I teach from a 5th grade to 10th grade level, but it really depends on their English proficiency.

Scarlet: How do you like it?

Mary: I really like it. All the students know at least four languages, and that’s amazing … It just makes you grateful that you have the opportunity to see what they’ve been through being a refugee, and then how far they’ve come. Even though they’re still young, they’ve been through so much. It’s a motivation for you to keep on going and do better in this world. It gets tough because you have to take account of their background and what they’ve gone through. Every behavior that they act on has a reason behind it. So that’s a bit hard, like behavior and disciplining. But once they know that you’ve got their back and once they know you well, they’re so nice. They’ve been through situations where they’ve lost trust so often that it’s hard for them to give you trust. But it’s a chance for me to impact someone. You see how just caring for someone can go a long way.

Scarlet: You have also been on InterVarsity’s ServeUp trip, what was that like?

Mary: It’s amazing. I did it twice. The past two years when I have gone it has been in New Orleans. But now it’s in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We basically go there for a week over Spring Break. We build houses and we interact with the community and talk to the people. I actually got involved in InterVarsity a lot more after going to ServeUp my first year. You meet so many people that you wouldn’t have met otherwise because you stay there for a week and you talk about deep stuff. Last year we talked about racial reconciliation, we talked about race and justice … There are a lot of people who have a strong feeling about how Christians are, like “they think they’re better than all of us.” As InterVarsity, we try to show that that’s wrong and to show what it really means to be a Christian through different events and going to ServeUp.

Scarlet: Can you tell us about your research in Florida last summer?

Mary: It was so nice. I was at the University of Florida. I stayed there for two and a half months. I did research with a professor in the Entomology and Nematology Department … I learned how to reproduce nematodes efficiently using another worm … So, basically you have waxy worms, and you put them in a petri dish, add nematodes on it, and then add water. Nematodes have bacteria in their guts that kill the waxy worms, and once the waxy worms decay, the nematodes feed on them, and then they just replicate … My main focus of research was a farmer who gave us a sample of soil, and he asked us to figure out which nematode was present in it so that he could use the best pesticide and not spend money on the wrong ones. So we took the soil, we extracted the nematodes from there, we isolated its DNA, and then we amplified it. This way we figured out what the type of nematode was.

Scarlet: If you were a food, which would you be?

Mary: If I was a food, I would be a potato. Because everyone likes potatoes in any shape or form. There’s French fries, mashed potatoes, wedges … potatoes [laughs]. They’re good, they fill you up … they can’t be confined to one category.  

Thanks for the interview, Mary!