In 2005, Charles Rushimisha’s supervisor told him he’d never rise above his job in a Maine poultry plant, never get a shot at a college degree. Well, guess what happened.
Newly arrived from Rwanda and barely speaking English, with little money and no family support, the young man took it as a challenge. Eight years later, he is a few courses shy of earning a bachelor’s in chemical engineering. He’ll become the first in his family to earn a college degree and likely graduate magna cum laude.
He grew up in Congo and Rwanda, shifting among family members after his parents died in the 1994 Rwandan genocide that cost more than 500,000 lives. The math and physics star overheard a conversation in a local library that made him realize he could apply for a visa to attend college in the U.S.
He landed in D.C. on Nov. 7, 2005, with little more than the clothes on his back, living in a shelter for a few weeks before connecting with other African emigrants and finding the job at the Maine grocery store that inspired him to enroll in classes. He transferred from the University of Southern Maine to URI in search of a chemical engineering course. At times he hasn’t been able to afford textbooks, although things have been easier since URI’s Talent Development Program, the College of Engineering’s Minority Outreach Office, and other groups matched him with financial aid and on-campus jobs. “You have no idea what this community did for me,” Rushimisha says. “What I got from people here is a gift I am going to cherish forever.”
His plans include graduate school, then a career as a petroleum engineer that Rushimisha hopes will eventually fund his return to central Africa to start a business tapping oil from recently discovered oil fields. The economic impact, he dreams, could dramatically reshape a region still recovering from war. “I love America, I would die for America, but I don’t think America needs me as much as Congo and Rwanda,” Rushimisha says. “Those countries, that’s where there is need.”