Partnership with Rwanda increases diversity in UNL’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Story, aggregated content and video by Lauren Brown-Hulme, NewsNetNebraska

Jean Claude Mbarushimana wants to change the world.

The method, according to this University of Nebraska-Lincoln sophomore from Rwanda?

Ensuring all are fed.

“Food is a huge problem that our world has,” Mbarushimana said. “If I want to make a great impact, I feel like agriculture is a good way to go. Everyone needs food, everyone needs affordable food and food which is high-quality food.”

Mbarushimana is one of 105 students from Rwanda selected to participate in the CASNR (College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources) Undergraduate Scholarship Program (CUSP), which has existed since 2015. CUSP scholars like Mbarushimana will spend four years in Lincoln pursuing a bachelor’s degree in integrated science and have opportunities to hold internships both in Nebraska and Rwanda.

Two years ago, the university received a grant from an anonymous donor allowing CASNR to fund the education of 180 Rwandan students, seeing Rwanda as a valuable agricultural partner to Nebraska.

Developing Rwanda’s agricultural sector 

Ninety percent of Rwanda’s population is involved in the agricultural sector in some way. According to CUSP Coordinator Blayne Sharpe – who lived in Rwanda for six years before coming to Nebraska – the farming industry in Rwanda has exploded as the country rebuilt following the 1994 genocide.

“They’re at a stage now where they have to make this unbelievable development that they’ve had over the last 20 years sustainable,” Sharpe said. “That’s very much the focus now. To move from a place where they’re dependent on foreign aid and now they’re focused on sustainable development.”

Thus, the Rwandan Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources identified several focuses for the CUSP program at Nebraska – conservation agriculture, entrepreneurship, leadership and innovative thinking – designed to equip Rwandan students who want to serve their communities through careers in agriculture.

“We’re really unique among international programs, especially at an undergraduate level,” Sharpe said. “We really leverage our academic research and extension mission within the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources to partner with [Rwandan] programs, to make sure that they’re mutually beneficial, and that we’re building something sustainable and impactful for the communities these students are coming from.”

In 2015, CUSP accepted seven students. Last year, 1,600 Rwandan students applied to CUSP and 200 finalists were interviewed. Just 50 were selected for the 2017-2018 school year.

CUSP students account for 62 percent of CASNR’s international student population, the total amount of international students increasing 36 percent from 2016.

Finding CUSP scholars

In order to create awareness about the program, CASNR faculty work with partners in Rwanda, like the Ministry of Education and several top-performing schools, to promote CUSP. Sharpe said he and other faculty travel to Rwanda to make presentations to prospective students about opportunities at Nebraska, just as they do in the U.S.

Students interested in the program are asked to submit a 500-word essay answering “Why you are passionate about pursuing a career aligned with Rwandan agriculture?”

The first cohort of CUSP students are juniors this year. CUSP program officials say their academic and personal growth has been noticeable. Photo: Lauren Brown-Hulme, NewsNetNebraska

In his essay, freshman CUSP student Victor Nsengiumva Mpore explained that because many Rwandans rely on agriculture, he was passionate about a pursuing a career in a field that positively impacted the most people. He said he has already acquired tools and concepts in CUSP he is eager to apply when he returns home.  

“One thing that I want to take home with me is how to add value to our agriculture products,” Nsengiumva Mpore said. “I’m really excited to implement that in Rwanda and in my time here, learn more about what Nebraskans are already using to add value to their products.”

Although Nsengiumva Mpore said he will not return to Rwanda until the summer before his junior year, the adjustment to life in the U.S. has been much better than anticipated. In his first months in Nebraska, Nsengiumva Mpore has attended the Nebraska State Fair and has made many American friends through his involvement in the Newman Center Catholic Church.

“My first impression [of Nebraska] was that everybody here smiles, they say “hi” in the streets,” Nsengiumva Mpore said. “Everything I’ve seen is new. But good new, not bad new.”

Measuring success

Because the first cohort of CUSP students are juniors this year, the program has not yet seen graduates. For now, Sharpe said, the soft measure of success is the way the 105 CUSP students have grown academically and personally over the time they have been at Nebraska and how they have begun to develop projects to implement in Rwanda.

“Many times as a university we measure success in terms of graduation rates or job placement rates,” Sharpe said. “With CUSP, it’s a long-term commitment and we’ll be connected to these students years down the road.

There will be benchmarks along the way, but ultimately the true success of this program will be seen 30 years from now when we’re recognizing the impact this elite group of young people is having on their country, continent and on a global scale.”

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