Emmanuel M. Nsengiyumva’s journey to the University at Buffalo was anything but conventional. A decade ago, he had just arrived in Buffalo from a Congolese refugee camp in Rwanda.
By 2013, he’d enrolled at UB, encouraged to enter into engineering by his mentor, retired UB engineering professor Alexander Scott Gilmour. Now, in 2021, he’s a PhD student in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, under the advisement of Paschalis Alexandridis, and a PRODiG Fellow.
The SUNY PRODiG (Promoting Recruitment, Opportunity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Growth) Fellowship Initiative is a new program that strives to increase the representation of historically underrepresented faculty throughout the SUNY system. It provides access to formal resources like workshops and trainings to guide the 60 chosen Fellows in balancing teaching, research, and service. Another important feature of the program is mentorship; Emmanuel is mentored by experienced faculty and gets to support students on their paths, while drawing strength from his own experiences.
Since coming to UB, he has sought to connect with and empower other minority students throughout the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Emmanuel was connected to the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program and the Western New York Prosperity Fellowship by Letitia Thomas, assistant dean for diversity in UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The Prosperity Fellowship experience taught him about the issues that WNY is facing and connected him with progressive-thinking, community-minded leaders, including fellow immigrants, collaborating across sectors to make change.
We asked Emmanuel to share how he supports diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), and why this work is so important to him.
How do you try to promote and support diversity in STEM?
When speaking to minority students, I explain to them the value of STEM majors and how they too can contribute to the community by pursuing these majors. As a PRODiG fellow, I think that diversity and inclusion is essential in school and in the community. As technology is central to success in higher education, diversity should also be central (from students, faculties, and all the way up to administrative levels). I believe representation is very important for building and grooming a generation of students that are confident and successful. My main goal is to teach and educate students on the importance of STEM majors. I have been involved in the community and worked on educating English as a second language students and other city high school students on how our everyday life depends on STEM. My goal is to continue educating and grooming the next generation of STEM majors by creating more opportunities such this.
Why are you passionate about diversity in STEM?
When I started school, I did not know the differences between majors. I just enrolled in general sciences. Someone explained the importance of STEM to me and this steered me toward pursing a degree in chemical engineering. I am passionate about helping students so they do not have to face the same struggles and stay motivated. I always read about Black people who are very successful in science, like, George Washington Carton, Katherine Johnson, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Paula Hammond (a chemical engineering professor at MIT). These people and many others paved the way for minority students to go far in life and be contribute to society. This provides minority students with the opportunity to work toward their full potential. I want to see little girls and boys grow up and become like these pioneer scientists no matter where they come from or what obstacles they face. It will be great to see all people from all backgrounds working together to solve some challenges that we are globally facing today.
What advice do you have for other minority students in STEM?
As a minority student you face many challenges, but you can succeed by staying motivated and working hard. Every step you take every day makes a difference in your life. I believe that most minority students need someone who believes in them and sees their potential to progress in their education. Everyone can do well in STEM; however, those who are first generation students usually do not have the opportunity to access basic resources related to STEM fields. I believe everyone deserves to know and get support that can lead them to success and inspire the next generation in STEM. I believe there are bright students who can be the next George Washington Carver – only support and inspiration is needed. It is motivating to see someone like you doing something you want to pursue or something you never thought you could do. I keep this in mind when providing advice to students.