Zilfa Irakoze

Zifla Irakoze
Meet Zilfa Irakoze

Irakoze harvests her dreams for agricultural leadership success

May 7, 2020 | by Jessica Ha

Zilfa Irakoze came to Nebraska to seek better opportunities and cultivate her dreams as part of the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources Undergraduate Scholarship Program.

At the thought of traveling so far away from home, Irakoze was intimidated by the fear of moving to an unfamiliar country without knowing anybody and losing her way around campus. But when she arrived in Nebraska in the fall of 2016, she was surprised to find many international students who had also traveled the distance to pursue their dreams, in addition to the nearly 200 other Rwandans in the CUSP program. Under the guidance of the New Student Enrollment International Welcome Team, Irakoze quickly learned to navigate her way around campus and make new friends.

Graduating from Nebraska means that I have grown, challenged myself, learned and achieved a big life goal.

Zilfa Irakoze

From her freshman year, Irakoze said her “U.S. Education in the Age of Globalization” class had a transformational impact on her college career. The professor and the curriculum pushed Irakoze to put herself out there and utilize the resources offered to students. She was able to make the connections across campus and became more involved in different organizations. Using the knowledge gained from course lectures, Irakoze developed greater leadership and communications skills, leading her to employment on the International Welcome Team, being a peer mentor, and becoming the leader she always wanted to be.

Zifla with friends supporting UNL diversity and inclusion efforts

Throughout her journey in Nebraska, Irakoze never shied away from taking on challenges and striving for the next level. She knew how to use the skills and experience she already had towards efforts that would benefit not only herself but others in her community. Understanding the challenges for international students entering a completely new environment when they first arrive to the U.S., Irakoze wanted to be there for students like those that were there for her when she first arrived.

“From my experience, I knew that I wanted to bring that smile and joy of welcome to other international students,” Irakoze said. “My favorite memories from being part of the welcome team are the smiles on international students' faces when they saw us there for them at the airport and the beautiful and diverse family I gained out of the international students I worked with.”

From the connections she fostered, Irakoze gained multiple professional experiences that expanded on her studies. In 2017 and 2018, she represented UNL’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at the World Food Prize in Iowa. The World Food Prize is the most internationally recognized honor for the achievements of individuals who have enhanced the development of society by improving the quality, quantity, or availability of food in the world.

Zifla at the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa

During the conference, Irakoze met people from the different sectors and organizations that are influencing food security in the world today, and learned how all of the partners are interconnected. She was also able to make life-long connections she thinks will be of further aid her in her future career.

“It was a very educative and eye-opening experience. I learned so much about food security issues and how they are being solved around the world,” Irakoze explained.

During their sophomore year, all CUSP scholars complete a hands-on internship in Nebraska. Irakoze knew she wanted to work in either a processing company lab or a governmental lab. After reviewing her choices with CUSP advisor Blayne Sharpe and department head Dr. Curtis Weller, Irakoze ultimately submitted her resume to the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.

Zifla with her Nebraska Department of Agriculture team

“Working at the Nebraska Department of Agriculture helped me understand even more than I needed to be in a food safety extension career,” Irakoze said. After learning firsthand the rigorous standards for food product testing in order to progress forward, Irakoze realized the high importance of the production process.

As she continues on to Kansas State University for her graduate degree in Food Science and Technology, Irakoze is looking forward to exploring and making new memories, while keeping her relationships here in Nebraska.

“I will look most back on the growth and love I experienced from conversations and celebrations I had with friends,” Irakoze said. “I am most thankful for the faculty support I got from the beginning to the end of my journey at UNL.

Meet more international Huskers