When Aime Nishimwe arrived in Nebraska from his home country of Rwanda in the fall of 2018, he knew one thing for certain — he was not going to be content with merely attending classes.
“I wanted to do more than be just a student,” said Nishimwe, an integrated science major from Gisenyi, Rwanda. “If you just go to class, do your homework and go to sleep, you aren’t doing much.”
During his first semester, Nishimwe got connected with Madhavan Soundararajan, then an assistant director with the University Honors Program, who encouraged him to apply. The more Nishimwe learned about Nebraska Honors, the more he came to see it as a way to enhance his time at the university.
“One of the things that makes students more competitive is what they do outside of their school work, and I realized that being a part of the Honors Program would push me to add value to my degree by getting involved in experiential learning opportunities,” Nishimwe said.
Nishimwe is a member of the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources Undergraduate Scholarship Program, and is one of nearly 200 students from Rwanda who have come to Nebraska to pursue a degree in integrated science since 2015. As the first scholar from this program to apply for the Honors Program, Nishimwe was charting a new path — figuring out how the expectations of his scholarship and his existing research plans aligned with honors curricular requirements.
After his first semester in Nebraska Honors, Nishimwe became a walking advertisement for the program.
“Once I knew that it wasn’t going to mean a lot of additional classes, I shared the opportunity with my friends,” Nishimwe said.
He sent emails to his fellow scholars promoting the application deadline, and word of mouth began to spread among the scholars.
Each semester since, more scholars from the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources Undergraduate Scholarship Program have applied. Now, more than 20 of the Rwandan scholars can claim the title of College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources honors student.
Tiffany Heng-Moss, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, is excited to see so many of them pursuing Honors.
“The Honors Program provides a wonderful opportunity for our CUSP scholars to leverage the experiential learning and co-curricular programming offered to enhance their educational experience at the University of Nebraska,” Heng-Moss said.
Some have even moved into Knoll Residential Center, home of Nebraska Honors. Nishimwe is among those living in honors housing, and says that the quiet atmosphere is perfect for him.
“There’s something great about living in Knoll,” Nishimwe said. “You’re surrounded by an academically-driven community. It’s a great place for studying when you want to focus.”
According to Shannon Mangram, coordinator of community engagement, retention and recruitment for the University Honors Program, the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources Undergraduate Scholarship Program scholars have quickly integrated into the Honors community.
“Part of the reason they’ve become such a valuable part of the honors community is because they’ve seized the opportunities we’re providing,” Mangram said. “We have had CUSP scholars apply for nearly every student organization and experiential learning opportunity that Nebraska Honors has to offer.”
Being in the University Honors Program has opened doors academically for College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources Undergraduate Scholarship Program Scholars, from new honors seminars to opportunities in the community. According to Aime Christian Tuyishime, a College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources Undergraduate Scholarship Program scholar from Kigali, Rwanda, honors contracts have had a massive impact on his college career, allowing him to get to know faculty.
“I have worked with Dr. Andrea Basche on an honors class contract about introducing cover crops in Sub-Saharan Africa, which led to an opportunity to work with her on the development of crop models with the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to enable farmers to make better and more accurate predictions of their yield,” Tuyishime said.
Tuyishime has pursued honors course contracts aggressively. He says the extra effort they require has been worth it, and Basche’s course is not the only one in which an honors contract has led him to an external research opportunity.
“I learn so much from these experiences,” Tuyishime said, “including daily life lessons like time management and communication skills.”
Tuyishime’s honors experience has also included applying for and being accepted into the new Honors Experiential Tracks for third- and fourth-year honors students.
“I am a member of the Environmental Stewards Track, which exposes me to the challenges of climate change, global warming and environmental degradation, which are closely related to agriculture,” Tuyishime said.
Tuyishime says his involvement with the track is providing professional development that will hopefully allow him to become a leader in sustainable agriculture back in Rwanda.
“I get support to represent myself well by creating an outstanding personal portfolio and future support for completing my honors’ thesis,” he said.
The increase in scholars from Rwanda in the University Honors Program is an indication that a broader effort to expand access to the program for international students is working. In the Fall 2020 semester, over 40% of the new on-campus or transfer students admitted to Nebraska Honors were international students. The application to join Nebraska Honors for the Spring 2021 semester is now open for current first- and second-year University of Nebraska–Lincoln students, including international students. Applications are due Dec. 10, and students may apply here.
Applying for the Honors Program is an opportunity Nishimwe earnestly recommends to fellow international students.
“The opportunities open for you when you start looking for them as an Honors student,” he said. “Honors gives students a pathway to excellence.”