Iradukunda’s long journey to Dartmouth College, US

A 2011 secondary school graduate, Eric Iradukunda, has been awarded a full scholarship to Dartmouth College, a prestigious Ivy-league university in the United States of America. Iradukunda began university in the U.S. in early September, following an 18 month long preparation course through the Bridge2Rwanda Scholars program, which focuses on helping Rwandan students prepare and earn international university scholarships. This program is managed by Bridge2Rwanda, an International Non-governmental organisation (INGO) working in Rwanda.
Eric Iradukunda (L) and Nancy Ingabire Abayo soon after they both got scholarships to Dartmouth College and Bucknell University respectively. Education Times / Courtesy.
Eric Iradukunda (L) and Nancy Ingabire Abayo soon after they both got scholarships to Dartmouth College and Bucknell University respectively. Education Times / Courtesy.

A 2011 secondary school graduate, Eric Iradukunda, has been awarded a full scholarship to Dartmouth College, a prestigious Ivy-league university in the United States of America. Iradukunda began university in the U.S. in early September, following an 18 month long preparation course through the Bridge2Rwanda Scholars program, which focuses on helping Rwandan students prepare and earn international university scholarships. This program is managed by Bridge2Rwanda, an International Non-governmental organisation (INGO) working in Rwanda.

After graduating from secondary school with excellent results on his school reports and national exams, but without a sense of where he would attend university, Iradukunda joined Bridge2Rwanda Scholars in March 2012. It was through this program that his dream of going to an international university with a scholarship became a reality.

“For me, Bridge2Rwanda was not an alternative, but the only option available,” said Iradukunda. “For most of us students, it was the first time we had ever heard of the TOEFL and SAT examinations, which are required to win international university scholarships. Fortunately, our scores improved greatly over the months, and my classmates succeeded as well and are now leaving for their own universities soon.”

Bridge2Rwanda Scholars is an American preparatory program in Kigali which helps students to apply to international universities as qualified candidates, based on secondary school grades, preparation in English, reading and critical thinking, and other extracurricular activities.  The program employs several part-time faculty members and recruits volunteers to serve as academic tutors and mentors for individual students.

Using preparation from Kaplan Test Prep and a team of international teachers, along with hard work and many rounds of practice tests, the Bridge2Rwanda Scholars class average rose over 200 points on the SAT and 60 points on the TOEFL. With these results, Bridge2Rwanda’s university counselors were confident that it was time for the students to start sending in applications.

“I sent in my application to Dartmouth College, a prestigious Ivy League school which is very hard to get into,” said Iradukunda. “In the back of my mind, I knew I had applied just for the sake of it and because it was the first school my counselors recommended. The only thing I knew about Dartmouth was that Dr. Agnes Binagawaho, Rwanda’s Health Minister, was very engaged with the university and visited regularly.”

Early in November of 2012, Iradukunda sent in his application to Dartmouth and then had to wait for the response. Five weeks later, the university’s reply had arrived. “The first word I read was enough to make me scream at the top of my lungs,” said Iradukunda who was then seated at a computer work station while working his night shift job at a call center in Kigali. “When I opened the email, my eyes connected with the word ‘Congratulations!’ which was all I needed to see, and I almost got suspended from work due to my excited response.”

Iradukunda was admitted to Dartmouth with a full scholarship, but he and his family would be responsible to take care of some of the other costs, such as transportation and pocket money. A few months went by and he was still searching for ways take care of the additional costs, when another letter arrived from Dartmouth. Iradukunda had been chosen for the King Leadership Scholarship, a prestigious scholarship that the school gives to three international students per year. This additional scholarship covers all the costs of attending college and also transportation back to Rwanda every year for four years. “More excitement filled me as my dream was becoming a reality, and of course, everyone at Bridge2Rwanda was thrilled by the news,” said Iradukunda.

As Iradukunda was hearing good news from Dartmouth, other Bridge2Rwanda Scholars were getting good news from around the world as well. Many of them were receiving full scholarships through the MasterCard Foundation and will be attending universities in the United States, Canada, and Germany with full scholarships, including Trinity College (US), Arizona State University and Michigan State University.

Before the Bridge2Rwanda Scholar graduates left for North America and Europe to begin their studies, the program took the students through a series of additional courses to prepare them for life in a different culture and to give tips and ideas of what to expect when they arrive at their new homes for the next four years. “I know we will continue to honor ourselves and our country as we pursue a better education, so that we can make a positive change in Rwanda,” said Iradukunda.

Bridge2Rwanda Scholars works with Rwanda’s top high schools and Rwanda’s Ministry of Education to identify the nation’s top performing students from each year’s pool of graduating seniors. Applicants are required to provide high school records, an English-proficiency test score and a written essay. Selected students are then invited for personal interviews

Through the Bridge2Rwanda Scholars program, many students have earned full need scholarships to top universities.  Generally, the scholarships are funded by the universities’ budgets, or by international Foundations that give universities funding for students who they choose to admit. In each case, the students must be admitted to the universities, and then receive scholarship funding once they are selected by the university.

“In our program,” said Anna Reed, Bridge2Rwanda Scholars Executive Director, “we do not have actual scholarship funding to give. So, we focus on helping students prepare and then apply for scholarships as qualified students, and it is the universities themselves that give Rwanda’s best students full scholarships. We are so glad to see these outstanding results for Iradukunda and all of our students. Our goal is that they will get a great education and return to contribute to Rwanda, depending on their different fields. It is an honor to work on this goal here in Rwanda, because the students have so much potential and the quality of students graduating from secondary schools is so high.”

Applications will open for the 2014 Bridge2Rwanda Scholars class from November 15, 2013, and will remain open until January 30, 2014. The program itself will start in March 2014.

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