Shemsa Ndahiro Iribagiza | Student Stories

Shemsa Ndahiro Iribagiza
Meet Shemsa Ndahiro Iribagiza

Iribagiza finds new passion, leaves impact as “Woman of Character”

May 14, 2021 | By Courtney Van Hoosen

Since she was young, Shemsa Ndahiro Iribagiza’s parents instilled that she is a strong woman. Now the Kigali, Rwanda native is dreaming big, helping others find their voice and feel heard, and advocating for others.

"My parents were always vocal about the world needing bold, brave, and confident women," said Iribagiza. "My mother told me, 'I do all this so that you can learn. Nothing is supposed to get in the way of your dreams.'"

The passion her parents empowered her with encouraged Iribagiza to follow her dreams. At first, she thought her calling was to become a doctor. For two years, Iribagiza excelled in her theoretical courses at medical school, but would faint at the sight of blood. Eventually, she listened to her body and realized there were other ways she could help people – which is how Iribagiza discovered Nebraska and the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources (CASNR) Undergraduate Scholar Program (CUSP).

Iribagiza is one of 200 Rwandan scholars to participate in the CUSP program and study integrated sciences. Coming to Nebraska was an easy decision for Irigbagiza because she knew she would find a home away from home.

Shemsa nebraska student story"UNL was my best option in terms of the scholarship program and an ideal environment because I knew that there were many more Rwandan students that were going here. I love the community and it's very important for me that I am surrounded by people with whom we share the same values and culture," said Iribagiza.

When she first arrived at Nebraska, Iribagiza spent most of her time with her Rwandan peers and struggled to find the confidence to go out of her comfort zone. It was the trust and belief from her supervisor Brianne Wolf at the IANR Global Engagement office that led her to discover a new passion for empowering students. With a recommendation from her advisor, Kaitlyn Waller, Iribagiza was selected for the pilot of the Student Diplomats program.

"I had avoided being involved because I was very cautious about my accent, being an international student and finding myself as a minority for the first time. From [being a Student Diplomat], I became more confident in the things that I had to offer," said Iribagiza. "I am so grateful for Brianne and Kaitlyn for noticing my potential and giving me a platform to grown into the woman I am today."

There is always growth in challenges. Do what scares you the most and you will feel invincible after that.

Shemsa Ndahiro Iribagiza

Iribagiza was inspired to take up leadership positions in various organizations, including ASUN Student Government, the Rwandan Student Association and the International Student and Scholar Office. In her desire to share more about Rwandan culture and connect students across the university, Iribagiza helped organize a fashion show for Africa Night 2018 and a Language Institute during International Education Week 2020.

"I love engaging with students from different cultures," said Iribagiza. "I know that international students need a platform where they can talk more about themselves and their background."

With her legacy of serving as an active leader across campus, Iribagiza was nominated for one of the 2021 Women of Character, Courage and Commitment Awards from the university's Women's Center. She was also featured by the university during Women's History Month in March 2021.

Shemda receiving award

"When I was nominated for the [award], it was a huge shock because I always minimized the work that I do. Being selected as a recipient was just a confirmation that I could see myself doing this for a long time," said Iribagiza.

Shemsa Rwanda nigthAfter graduating this May, Iribagiza plans to follow her passion of student empowerment in pursuing a master's degree in higher education at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. In the future, she also has dreams of starting a women's mentorship program in Rwanda and building an orphanage to help others accomplish their dreams.

But no matter where her dreams take her, Iribagiza knows her time as a Husker will remain with her forever.

"Graduating from UNL means that it doesn't matter where I go after this – I am still going to be a Husker because Nebraska was my first home when I got to the United States."

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