This is a guest post by Aggie Nyambura, who graduated with a first class in computer science from JKUAT this year, just like I did over 3 years ago. She said I motivated her to graduate sumna cum laude (I am glad that my vanity may have some positive impact on society!). She’s now pursuing her master’s degree at Carnegie Mellon University in Kigali, Rwanda. Yes, the American university has a campus in Kigali for 4 years now, I think. Aggie chatted me up on facebook and wanted me to write about the university so the (relvant) Kenyans can be aware of it. However, I know nothing about the campus so I persuaded her that she ought to write her experience and send me the guest post.
I really enjoyed reading it, she should start her own blog! Anyway, here is the story, straight from the horse’s mouth:
I graduated in June 2014, from (Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology) JKUAT University with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. Enrolling for a Master’s program was next in my agenda and during my search for Universities offering the Master’s program I had in mind I came across Carnegie Mellon University Rwanda (CMU-R). I first heard about Rwanda CMUR last year during my final year at JKUAT.
If you do a Google search on CMU you will probably get hits on its notable word wide ranking in Computer Science and Technology. What you may also find is the fact that in 2012, CMU opened a new campus in Kigali, Rwanda in addition to the Pittsburgh, Silicon Valley, Australia and Qatar campuses. Up until last year, the Rwandan campus only offered Graduate Programs in IT & Engineering which is what I was looking for.
But there are many questions that cross your mind when you hear that the campus is set up in Africa, more so in Rwanda. Such as; is the quality of education the same? Is the tuition cheaper? Why study in Africa if you can go to the US and so on. And so I did my research.
The Kenyan student enrolled in the Inaugural class of 2012 was a great source of insight, as well as direct communication with the University staff. I got particularly interested in the Masters in Information Technology (MSIT) program; the other program, Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering (MSECE) did not exactly fit into what I had in mind and the application process began.
The process was rather involving and took me about 3 months to complete. Being an American University, I was required to sit for a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language or TOEFL) test and the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). The entire process was done online; from submitting application details, recommendation letters, interviews (via Skype) and receiving the admission decision. I got my admission for the MSIT program in May 2014, just one month before my undergraduate graduation. I was expected to report for a one month orientation program that would start on July 29th and thereafter classes would officially begin.
As the days went by, I went through a cycle of mixed feelings; excitement to undertake this new journey and sadness that I would be so far away from home. But this didn’t stop me from going. I remember tearing up at the airport as I bid my family and friends good bye; this was on a gloomy Sunday afternoon. When I landed in Kigali, there were some things that struck me. The nicely lit roads, the smooth traffic, the cleanliness, it was definitely a new experience for me.
I came to learn that orientation here is quite different from what we know. In my first year in JKUAT, orientation involved being given campus tours, meeting department heads and the Vice Chancellor’s welcoming speech ceremony. Orientation spanned for an entire week! However, on my first day at CMUR after we had a brief introductory ceremony and a short tour of the University we sat for our first class in the afternoon.
The orientation is structured to bring all students at par in terms of computer programming, language skills and other fundamental concepts in computer science. Many of us had come from different Universities with different backgrounds and this made the orientation vital for all of us. From the second day onwards, classes began at 8:30 in the morning and ended at 5:30 pm in the evening every day of the week. The school provided us with lunch so we practically spent all our time in school. We also had fun activities to do such as a day trip to Gashora, a remote town about 2 hours from Kigali, bowling and movie nights.
This became my routine for the one month before classes began officially on August 25th. The American system on which CMUR is based is quite different from what we have come to know. Each of us was assigned an academic advisor who would be one of our professors. This person would be your go to person to consult on academic issues, for career advice and generally to ensure that you are faring well in the program.
Classes start at 9 am every day. One is free to select whichever courses they may want to take and so student’s schedules differ. The quality of education offered is the same as that offered in the other campuses. The professors were previously teaching at the main campus in Pittsburgh. It is also possible to take classes in other campuses like Silicon Valley by having the sessions streamed live to Rwanda and even then, one is expected to put in as much effort as if they were in the campus offering the course. The major advantage of studying here in Rwanda is the 50% scholarship offered to all East African citizens on the tuition fee. Because the teaching is the same as those of other CMUR campuses, the tuition fee is the same; so having 50% paid for reduces the financial load significantly.
The programs offered at CMUR are very intensive; you learn by doing so at any one point you will have several projects or assignments you are working on. There is a wide pool of resources available to help you succeed, from the experienced professors, the Teaching Assistants (TAs as we like to call them) and the students from the preceding class. The school literally provides us with everything we need, from laptops to free gym membership; we have it all. One interesting fact is that for the first time ever since the inaugural class, I happen to be the only girl admitted to the program from a class of 28 students. I hope that next year’s intake will have a better representation of both genders.
I am still adjusting to living in Kigali and how different it is from life in Nairobi. Take for instance the public buses used to move around the city. Bus fares are relatively cheap within Kigali with the furthest bus ride costing between 200-250 Rwandan Francs, about Ksh.30. Motos, boda bodas as we know them, are also quite common here but with the requirement that both the driver and passenger wear helmets.
One interesting observation was the absence of big shopping stores and supermarkets like we have back in Nairobi. Shopping for things can be daunting as their stock supplies are limited in addition to the high prices for Kenyan brands. However, there are a few Nakumatt outlets in the CBD. Kigali is a very secure city. Policemen patrol the areas at all hours of the day. I have walked back to my house as late as 1 am with no fear at all.
All in all, CMUR is like one small community of people who share big dreams and want to transform the world. I have seen myself grow in so many ways since I came here and I cannot imagine being anywhere else. Every day I learn something new about myself and push myself to new heights I never thought I’d ever reach; all thanks to CMU.
For more photos click here.