Editor's Note — This Q&A is part of a weekly student conversation series that is celebrating Women's History Month on the University of Nebraska–Lincoln's Medium page. The series will feature students who are making impacts on campus and look to maintain that momentum in future careers. Learn more about Women's History Month coverage in Nebraska Today.
his week, meet Shemsa Ndahiro Iribagiza, an integrated science major from Kigali, Rwanda. Since she was young, Iribagiza’s parents instilled that she is a strong woman. Now she’s dreaming big, advocating for and helping others find their voice.
Talk about your passion for women/youth empowerment.
I grew up surrounded by strong women. My parents were always vocal about the world needing bold, brave and confident women. I’ve seen my mom go out of her way to teach me the importance of following your dreams. You know, she was working a full-time job, going to school, and being a mom all at once. She told me, “I do all this so that you can learn. Nothing is supposed to get in the way of your dreams.” My dad taught me that empowerment is a genuine feeling of love and respect towards women. A mother, a sister, a wife, a daughter and a friend are as important and necessary for the functioning of humanity as a father, a brother, a husband, a son and a friend. So I guess I have always been passionate, but it stems from my parents.
What do you hope to do in the future to empower women?
I have been thinking about this for a long time now, but I have yet to work on the logistics of it. Here at Nebraska, I have met so many wonderful women who are as passionate as I am about women. They have accomplished so much, and they have so many inspiring stories to tell. I want to establish a mentorship program where I can connect women here with some of the women in Rwanda so that they can exchange ideas and mentor them through the transition of high school to college. Some responsibilities would include providing help with college applications, preparation for standardized tests, and so on. If you are interested, PM me.
Talk about your passions for nutrition and feeding a hungry planet.
I grew up wanting to help people. The only way I knew how to do that was to become a doctor, and I was set on that. I went to medical school for two years, and my whole body just rejected the idea. I was excellent with the theory of it, but I fainted at the mere sight of blood. Then, I came here for integrated science, which is really what it sounds like. I’m focused on nutrition and health sciences because I want to help children with malnutrition from the ages of 0–5 years. My passion comes from helping my parents with my little siblings. I like children, and what could make me happier than going in a line of work where I would be interacting with children?
What have you learned from your involvement on campus?
I am the public relations officer for the Rwandan Student Association. I plan events for the organization, interact with the Student Involvement office and their policies, and maintain a good relationship with other RSOs. I am a member of ASUN Student Government’s Diversity and Inclusion committee. My role is to represent minority students and to improve underrepresented students’ lives. One thing I’ve learned from all my involvement on campus is that you must be intentional with your programming and events. Who are you targeting and how are you encouraging them to participate? Part of that means collaborating with people who I know need a push. For example, I have a friend who has a crippling fear of public speaking. I invited her to host an event with me. She actually liked it and asked me how she could get more involved with events like that.
What do you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?
Currently, I am very focused on getting into graduate school. One thing that I want to accomplish more than anything else is to build an orphanage. The idea that there is a kid out there who doesn’t have a family or anyone to look after them makes my heart heavy. Kids do not get to decide what happens to them. They are so vulnerable and just paying for the mistakes of their parents. No kid should have to go through that.
What is your advice to other students looking to make an impact?
There is always growth in challenges. Do what scares you the most and you will feel invincible after that. Also, you can’t make an impact if you’re not connected on campus. Go outside your comfort zone, make a friend of someone different from you, attend different events on campus. And I promise you’ll get the full college experience.