News

CMU Rwanda graduates its first class

Student speaker Merab Twahirwa addresses the audience during the commencement ceremony at the Serena Hotel in Kigali, Rwanda. (credit: Courtesy of Philippe Nyirimihigo) Student speaker Merab Twahirwa addresses the audience during the commencement ceremony at the Serena Hotel in Kigali, Rwanda. (credit: Courtesy of Philippe Nyirimihigo) New master’s graduates toss their caps in the air at the inaugural graduation ceremony for Carnegie Mellon’s Rwanda campus. 22 students received degrees in information technology on July 24. (credit: Courtesy of Philippe Nyirimihigo) New master’s graduates toss their caps in the air at the inaugural graduation ceremony for Carnegie Mellon’s Rwanda campus. 22 students received degrees in information technology on July 24. (credit: Courtesy of Philippe Nyirimihigo)

Carnegie Mellon University celebrated another mile- stone in international education last month.

The university’s Rwanda campus (CMU-R) graduated its first class on July 24, when 22 students received master’s degrees in information technology during a ceremony at the Serena Hotel in Kigali, Rwanda.

Carnegie Mellon opened its Rwandan campus in 2012, becoming the first American university to offer master’s degrees in Africa taught by full-time, resident faculty. CMU-R currently offers a master’s degree in information technology, which, according to the university’s website, covers topics in information and communications technology including “mobile applications, information security and networking, and software management, as well as critical business areas such as finance, operations and entrepreneurship.” Beginning this August, the university will offer a joint master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering with the Pittsburgh campus.

Four of the graduating CMU-R students visited Pittsburgh last semester and took part in a classic campus tradition: painting the fence.

“We wanted to paint Carnegie Mellon in Rwanda and the link to our website on the Fence so that more people can learn about CMU’s presence in Rwanda,” Merab Twahirwa, the student speaker at the graduation ceremony, said in a Carnegie Mellon press release.

Twahirwa also spoke of the current development in Eastern Africa, saying, “Rwanda is an exciting place to know, and Africa is growing fast. IBM, Phillips, and GE are already setting up offices there.”

Bruce Krogh, professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of CMU-R, said of the recently graduated class, “They’re pioneers.... It’s terrific. I really feel great for the students.”

“The first semester is quite an adjustment for them,” Krogh continued. “American accents are difficult for them to understand among English accents.” Krogh also said that Rwandan education is typically more rote, and that the critical thinking and problem solving inherent in the Carnegie Mellon curriculum was new to many students.

“It was really more challenging for them,” said Michel Bézy, associate director of CMU-R and distinguished service professor of engineering and public policy. He highlighted students’ 80- to 90-hour work weeks, saying, “The work is not even anywhere close to what they’ve had before.”

“The requirements on the students are very different," Bézy continued, mentioning that “plagiarism is very common in Africa; even some professors do it.” CMU-R graduates had to make major adjustments in both dealing with the workload and creating quality work, according to Bézy.

Graduate Andrew Kinai (E ‘14) said in the release, “I always tell people, if you can come to CMU in Rwanda, it’s a big opportunity. The way the courses are structured, it’s relevant in terms of where we are in Africa today.”
“They are all now going directly into work,” Krogh said, noting that a few students are pursuing Ph.Ds. “More than half have jobs, and half had been working, left their job to do a master’s for two years, and went back to these jobs.”

However, Krogh also spoke of potential challenges in the East African job market, saying that “putting 22 CMU master’s students in the job market in Kigali is quite a bump.”

“It’s going to take a few years for them to realize the quality of our students,” Bézy said, explaining that professors regularly meet with human resource directors at many of the major companies operating in Africa, and CMU-R holds job fairs to place students.

In terms of future goals for the program, Krogh said, “our big challenge is tuition.” Carnegie Mellon tuition is the same worldwide, and despite the Rwandan government providing a 50 percent scholarship to East Africans, the cost of a CMU-R degree is still high, according to Krogh.

“Another goal is to get the student diversity we’d like to see,” Krogh said.

He explained that, out of the most recent graduating class, 21 of 22 were Rwandan. “We’d like it to really become a regional, if not international location.”

Steps toward this goal are being taken, however.

Two Carnegie Mellon Pittsburgh students are traveling to the Rwandan campus to finish their master’s degrees in electrical and computer engineering this semester, and one Rwandan student studying information technology is coming for his fall semester at the Pittsburgh campus this year.

Carnegie Mellon’s Qatar campus also recently celebrated 10 years in Education City on the outskirts of Doha, Qatar’s capital. The campus opened in 2004 with 41 students in two programs and now offers biological sciences, business administration, computational biology, computer science, and information systems programs.

In 2012, Carnegie Mellon partnered with Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China to launch a joint graduate engineering program, called the Joint Institute of Engineering.

Sun Yat-sen and Carnegie Mellon at the same time launched a complementary program, the Shunde Inter- national Joint Research Institute, with the Shunde People’s Government of Foshan in Foshan, China.