Serving Up Success

Kim Bhunu aims to hit a forehand during a tennis match

Kim Bhunu was a standout academically and as a student athlete, where she was named to the all-Big West team on multiple occasions. (Photo: Owen Main, Cal Poly Athletics)

Written by August 4, 2023

Kimberley Bhunu took a giant leap coming to Cal Poly. The Harare, Zimbabwe, resident — who attended high school 7,000 miles from home in France — traveled halfway across the world to attend the Learn by Doing campus in 2018, sight-unseen, and play tennis for the NCAA team.

She leaves Cal Poly with two degrees — bachelor’s in business administration with an accounting concentration (2022) and a master’s in business analytics — and as a co-founder of a nonprofit that seeks to bridge the opportunity gap for underprivileged people while helping end trends of generational poverty. As well, she inked her name in the Mustangs record books for a history-making stint as a scholar-athlete.

Portrait of Kim Bhunu

Kim Bhunu earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the Orfalea College of Business while starring on the tennis team and co-creating a nonprofit. (Photo: Jay Thompson)

“My parents have been my biggest inspiration during my time at Cal Poly. They are a perfect example of embracing your situation and finding ways to make the most out of it. They also approach life with an eagerness to help those around them grow to their full potential, which is something I have always looked up to.”

“Coming to the U.S. was a lot to take in,” she said. “I thought I would be completely overwhelmed. Now, I am a more confident and accomplished individual. Because of some of my experiences at Cal Poly, I have a greater appreciation of myself and what I have to offer.”

Bhunu came to Cal Poly via a French tennis academy run by former Serena Williams coach Patrick Mouratoglou — where she saw legends like Novak Djokovic and Williams, who Bhunu portrayed as a younger player in a 2017 video promoting a video app/game.

“Serena’s someone I’ve always idolized,” said Bhunu who, like Williams, plays aggressively on the court. “Getting to meet her in person felt surreal — just an incredible experience.”

Because of visa issues, Bhunu committed to becoming a Mustang without ever getting a real look at her future home.

“Two things made me decide to attend,” she said. “I saw that it had good academics and many of its business students were set up with job opportunities before they graduated. Secondly, I liked the tennis team at Cal Poly. I had talked to the coach and a couple of the girls and really liked the values of the program.”

Cal Poly relative lack of diversity was “really hard to adjust to,” she said — but she found a community for herself through the Black Student Union, and the tennis team became her family.

On the court, she found success in her first few matches. Then, just weeks into the 2019 season, she suffered a torn ACL against the University of San Francisco that required a nine-month rehab. She returned the next spring just as COVID-19 curtailed the season.

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Kim with team
Bhunu fist dump
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Bhunu return wide
Kim Bhunu forehand
NIT Tennis Championships, May 17, 2023, Peachtree, Ga.
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PHOTO GALLERY: Kim Bhunu. (Photos: Owen Main, Kayla Stuart, Cal Poly Athletics; Universal Tennis; Big West; Pat Pemberton)

The pandemic also prevented her from seeing her family for over two years. but she persevered and found success. She’s a two-time All-Big West First Team selection in doubles and twice earned All-Conference honors as a singles player. And just last month, she picked up the Mustangs’ first postseason singles victory in Division I program history in the quarterfinals of the inaugural Universal Tennis NIT Championship in Atlanta.

Off the court she shined as a scholar, making the Dean’s List eight times, and as an entrepreneur. In 2022, Bhunu and some fellow students created Craft by Jáde — a nonprofit focused on bridging the opportunity gap for underprivileged people in Zimbabwe and Nigeria and ending the cycle of generational poverty in both countries through the sale of Afrocentric apparel, such as dresses and sandals. Bhunu handles business operations and finances. Sharon Dobson, an Orfalea College of Business faculty member, serves as a marketing and finance advisor.

“We use the proceeds from the sales, as well as donations, towards developmental programs in Nigeria and Zimbabwe,” said Bhunu, who considers the venture her biggest accomplishment as a student. “In Zimbabwe, we’re doing tennis development because tennis has given me so many opportunities. Who would’ve guessed I would have gone to Cal Poly on a full scholarship? We want to be able to provide similar opportunities to students.”

The 22-year-old will begin her career as an external auditor for Ernst & Young in San Francisco.

“I will always cherish the memories and friendships I made here at Cal Poly,” she said. “I couldn’t have made it through this journey alone, so I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who walked beside me. I truly hope that I’ve had a positive impact on them, just as they’ve had on me.”

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