Partnership Between Cheyney University and Rwanda Could Create New Opportunities

Anthony Love

October 24, 2012

L to R Seated:  Dr. Gedeon Mudacumura, Dr. Michelle Howard-Vital, Ambassador James Kimonyo
L to R Standing: Dr. Steven Hughes, Professor Donzelle Tiller, Dr. Donna Parker, Imani Johnson, Chief of Staff Sheilah Vance

L to R Seated: Dr. Gedeon Mudacumura, Dr. Michelle Howard-Vital, Ambassador James Kimonyo L to R Standing: Dr. Steven Hughes, Professor Donzelle Tiller, Dr. Donna Parker, Imani Johnson, Chief of Staff Sheilah Vance

James Kimonyo, Ambassador of the Republic of Rwanda, explored a joint study-abroad partnership between Rwandan collegiate institutions and America’s oldest institution of higher learning Thursday, October 25, 2012.  His visit marked the first time Cheyney University of Pennsylvania hosted an ambassador.   “I needed to come and find out how we can create a partnership that will be a win-win for both sides,” explained Kimonyo.

According to the diplomat, Rwanda is still improving after its “very sad” genocide period in 1994, in which one million Rwandans, some who had their limbs cut off by machetes, died. Rwanda now ranks third among African countries in business competitiveness, Kimonyo said.  He believes science, math, engineering, and technology will help continue the transformation of his country.

Kimonyo first collaborated with Cheyney University of Pennsylvania in August, when he co-sponsored an International Conference on Democratic Governance with Cheyney University Center City, spearheaded by Dr. Gedeon Mudacumura.  Cheyney President, Dr. Michelle Howard-Vital, met the Ambassador then and promised to invite him to tour CU’s main campus. 

Once he arrived, the President hosted a small luncheon for the Ambassador and facilitated a round-table discussion about how Cheyney and a Rwandan University could form an exchange program of sorts.  Students and faculty from both countries could, in essence, switch places and gain a wealth of experience that could be life-changing.  Former Miss Cheyney and Constituent Services Representative to U.S. Senator Patrick Toomey, Imani Johnson, offered to work with Cheyney in seeking federal support for the parnership.

In a rare opportunity for Cheyney students that afternoon, Kimonyo presented a question and answer session for students and faculty.  He reminded them that “some people in my country don’t have what you have.”  He detailed how he walked to school at 6 am, returning 12 hours later each day, and only had a couple of bananas to eat. Kimonyo encouraged students to appreciate their education and the opportunities that come their way.

Before leaving the University, the Rwandan Ambassador toured Cheyney University’s aquaponics greenhouse with Biology Professor Dr. Steven Hughes who runs the University’s Aquaculture Research and Education Laboratory (AREL), an artificial tilapia and basil farm. CU earns profits from its tilapia and basil sales.  Kimonyo was very excited by what he saw since resources and water are limited in Rwanda.

“Rwanda's vision is to transform our agriculture using technology and this project fits within that vision. It is a good project for Rwanda because we are a small country with very limited arable land, and with this technology you can produce more on a small piece of land. ”   He hopes to successfully replicate Cheyney University’s aquaponics greenhouse in Rwanda.  Dr. Hughes, meanwhile, hopes science majors will benefit from international internships in Rwanda.

If all goes as planned, Cheyney students and faculty could have new opportunities via a joint partnership that would be Cheyney’s first continual study abroad program.  Dr. Vital believes CU students will benefit from learning in Rwanda, where they will be the majority instead of the minority. “I am really pleased that our faculty and students could have the ability to broaden their horizons and see the Mother Land. It can be life changing.”   

Mr. Cheyney 2012, William Walker, reflected on the possibilities.  “It would make me appreciate education more. I’m sure I would see what people in a third world country go through every day.  It might change someone’s mindset. “

Ambassador Kimonyo plans to bring Rwandan Private Sector officials and government officials to campus in early 2013 to further discuss the partnership.