In 2006, Oklahoma Christian University and Rwanda President Paul Kagame began a partnership through the Presidential Scholarship, which sends 10 Rwandan students to Oklahoma Christian for school each year.
Over the last 10 years, 421 Rwandan students have received an education from Oklahoma Christian, 201 of which lived on campus and the remaining took online courses through the university’s MBA program in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali.
“All the students who come here are obligated to return back to Rwanda after they finish their undergraduate or graduate studies,” Oklahoma Christian President John deSteiguer said. “Many of those students have already returned and are already doing great things in government, service or in business there. I honestly believe that in the next 10 or 15 years, we’re going to see Oklahoma Christian graduates in Rwanda in very prominent government and business positions.”
In celebration of the 10-year partnership, Kagame hosted a gala in Kigali last week. deSteiguer attended the gala and said there was a large crowd in the city’s new convention center.
“We heard from alumni who spoke and we heard from some of the staff that have been a part of the program,” deSteiguer said. “[Former Oklahoma Christian President] Mike O’Neal spoke and President Kagame spoke. He is a very inspiring figure, so it really was just a great celebration.”
Junior Fabiola Nshuti is a medical lab sciences student who received the Presidential Scholarship to attend Oklahoma Christian. She said she could not have come to Oklahoma Christian if she did not have the scholarship.
“It’s an encouragement for me and for students in Rwanda,” Nshuti said. “In high school, they would be like, ‘I need to study hard so that I can get a Presidential Scholarship.’ It was a trigger to help them to study hard.”
Nshuti said in order to get the scholarship, students who received high scores on the standardized exam are chosen to take more tests.
“If you made high grades, you are able to take the written exams,” Nshuti said. “If you pass that, then you can go ahead and do interviews for schools abroad. For the interviews, they don’t tell us which school is interviewing us or who we’re going to talk to. After that, they call you and tell you, ‘Congratulations, you got the scholarship.’ When I got the call, I didn’t even know there was a state called Oklahoma.”
Nshuti said when she first came to the U.S., she knew very little English and was surprised to see people being nice and trying to help her.
“Everyone in Rwanda wishes to come to America,” Nshuti said. “We watch these movies and say, ‘I want to experience that.’ When I got here it was really hard, but I eventually got used to it. I like to tell my friends back home that people here hold the door for you, they’re really willing to help you and they don’t laugh at you if you don’t know anything.”
According to Kelsey Herndon, Oklahoma Christian’s international admissions counselor, the program is currently on hold.
“Rwanda scaled back the program starting around 2012,” Herndon said. “Instead of 10 students, they sent us back to seven and then we went to five for the last two years. Rwanda is paying for them to come here. OC gave some tuition scholarship, but they paid for everything else. So it became very expensive for them.””
deSteiguer said the program will likely not return to how it was when it began, but the relationship between Oklahoma Christian and Rwanda will continue.
“We still have a good number of Rwandan students here that are part of that program, finishing up that program or are just here because they know that OC is a great place to get an education,” deSteiguer said. “This program has brought the world to our Oklahoma Christian campus here. Rwandan students have, as a general rule, been extremely hard working and successful in the classroom and in the labs. It has really raised the bar for all of us.”