Students from the CUSP program and myself traveled to Rwanda in late March to help interview potential student candidates for the Rwanda Institute of Conservation Agriculture (RICA). If you're unfamiliar the CUSP program, it's an undergraduate scholarship program through the University of Nebraska–Lincoln's College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. Students receiving the scholarship are Rwandan citizens pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Integrated Science focused on conservation agriculture, entrepreneurship, leadership, and innovative thinking. They were the perfect group to help determine the first class of students at RICA.
From the moment our plane touched down in Kigali, I could feel the excitement from the group. Walking out into the warm Rwandan nighttime air only added to enthusiasm and we quickly forgot about the twenty hours of international travel and jet lag. We were finally here, ready to dive into the week and whatever challenges laid before us.
The following morning, we were on the move. We visited the location and construction site of RICA, slated to open this Fall. This helped strengthen our understanding of the trip's objective – to aid in the interview process of RICA’s first on-campus class of 84 students. While construction of the institute was still hastily underway, the size and scope of the future campus was nothing less than impressive. In September 2019, the student pioneers of RICA would be walking the same halls we were now touring. This image resonated throughout the group and allowed for us to fully realize our mission for the week, RICA’s first cohort had to be the best of the best to ensure lasting success.
In total, more than 7,000 Rwandan students had applied to the institute and many rounds of selection had already taken place by the time we arrived. Our task was to select 84 students for RICA enrollment out of the remaining 300 student applicants. This was accomplished through a series of group activity-based brainstorming scenarios and followed up with a comprehensive one-on-one interview.
We were blown away by the level of talent and knowledge the applicants showed and select just 84 students of whom to accept seemed like a daunting task. The process spanned Monday to Friday of the week, with each session lasting 8 a.m.–3 p.m. When our time in Rwanda was winding down, we all agreed it had been a busy, but successful week. We would surely miss the warm Rwandan weather, but would miss the individuals and students we had encountered most of all.