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A Semester in Rwanda

Final project presentations

So, my spirits have fallen and soared over this last week as the final presentations for the Object Oriented Programming class came in. First, I have never seen my students so engaged in actual coding as they have been on this project. Second, I had a few students show up (despite their weekly initials on the attendance sheet) well into the project without having been assigned a group. A few stern conversations about the opportunity of education being to learn rather than to be credientialed (with potentially empty credentials)..... 

However, putting them in formal groups was brilliant, if I do say so myself. I harnessed their collaborative sense but also promoted a sense of individual accountability. (high point; hold applause)

It also made it easier to see that 4 of the 12 groups submitted identical programs. (low point). So, I took a little time to mentally prep and had each group meet with me as planned. A couple of things seemed foreign to them in this approach: 1) there were only 5 students in the class room at a time (single group) and 2) the professor was actually talking to them about their work. They seemed elated as they answered my questions about why they designed their programs one way vs. another.

Shocker: even the "duplicate submissions" groups seemed really, really happy, and it didn't seem that it was only due to the fact that I wasn't going to narc them out (for you young'uns, find someone old to translate). I said that I wouldn't accept duplkicate work and, in any case, what they submitted had some problems anyway. They had until Tuesday to give me something better. Then we talked about what would be better and they weren't clueless. Apparently the 19 of them who had not been the original author had read the code and were in some position to know what they wanted to do, given the opportunity.

All in all, the bald delight that they showed during this project was wonderful. Rwandans are not ironic people; they are not cynical. When they are happy, man, is it contagious. And seeing a room of 60 very engaged, happy students is a fine thing anywhere on the globe. 

 


Thanksgivukkuh in Rwanda

So, the land of a thousands hills has very few turkeys. At the HRH Thanksgiving party last night we saw three of them, deceased, sadly. Or not so sadly. It's odd how "food from home" seems so compelling and exotic at the same time. Even in the warm weather, tropical clothing, inky dark skies, we had a table crammed with more food than the 40 or so people present could eat. Yeah, just like home. 

There was a group photo that took a long time to organize; there was a wine table and a pie table and Rwandan ice cream. There was pureed pumpkin and tons of green beans, aforementioned turkey and lamb. There were people talking about what they were going to do, instead, these holidays. Pat is spending Christmas on the pediatric floor of the hospital. She's going to bring food for the families (hospitals here don't provide food for patients) and toys for the children. I think it might be The Best Xmas Ever. 

Others are taking the opportunity to see other parts of Africa: Senegal, Namibia. One group is going white water rafting this weekend in Uganda. 

There's a restlessness to ex-pats over here. A further dis-location maybe, but adventuresome, riding the unfamiliar, no longer so concerned with what's below the surface, what The Answer For Rwanda is. We do what we do, and we hope that it helps. And we keep our spirits comforted. 


Good class, nice feeling

I think there's lots of things in life I would do better if I'd had a practice run first. Probably storming the fences at Seabrook, probably teaching my first  class back in the 80's, probably raising children, probably being a big sister. I'm definitely wishing I'd had a practice Rwanda first. I'm just now figuring out what works (best) here.

I decided to give my Object Oriented Programming  an ambitious final project. I decided to go with the prevailing collaborative behavior and let them work in groups. However, I got really strict about group membership and responsibility: each group could have no more than 5 members, all identified at the onset and the final grade dependent on each member's familarity with the product. For the first time all semester, I have most of the class actually typing code into their computers! I am getting specific questions! I am watching them try different things. I was able to say "I live to debug!" and have students appreciate what I'm offering! It was really quite satisfying. 

My plan is to spend the last week of class (since we magically got 2 more weeks when they changed the academic calendar two weeks ago) interviewing each group. There was kind of a bit of the wildebeest strategy going on and I'm trying to tease out those hiding in the pack. I think it's working. 

The other task I have is to make up the final (now only worth 40% of the grade as of yesterday. It was worth 60% of the grade last week). I'm really challenged by making up a short answer OOP question set. Maybe I can find an old AP exam ... (I guess I'm falling under the collaboration spell too) 

In any case, I always feel most at home here when I'm teaching and today was a good day. 


Animals at Akegera

Okay, I fully understand that I'm here for a teaching role and I have been doing plenty of teaching and mentoring. But I know that you really want to see pictures of animals. My internet is jumping in and out so I'm uploading without much commentary. 

Here are some from Akagera, where Jordan, Albe and I went for a safari: 

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And the tents that we stayed were palatial ... you could hear hippos exhaling at night when they came out to feed under our boardwalk. 

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A brief interruption

Hi all, I'm sorry that I haven't written lately.In October, it was for good news (family was visiting) and then for sad news  (my nephew died suddenly). I'll catch you up on the former in the next few posts. Let me just say a few things about being an ex-pat when big events -- I'm thinking tragic ones like this, but I bet there's some similar dislocation for happy events as well -- happen in a family and you're (I'm) an ocean away. 

There's a tempting feeling that you could very successfully ignore the entire situation. You're not home; there's no connections to remind you. You feel frozen in some alternative universe, before the blow and part of this sings of escape. I remember being in a medium sized car crash with someone who said "it's amazing how strong the feeling to just drive away is". He didn't, it wouldn't have changed the impact ultimately and, as they say, "wherever you go, there you are". The facts at hand don't change. 

The other feeling, almost a direct contradiction of the first, is to want to know everything, to keep trying to get in contact with others and get news. It's not really news that I wanted, but connection. When tragedy happens, we feel all the mixed up feelings (sadness, anger, confusion, numbness, blame, whatever) with a community at first, before eventually settling down with the reality of it all, and the individual impact. Those first feelings, when you feel your own grief, and the grief of those both closer and more removed from the event, are muted over the ocean. You feel others moving on without you. 

So, it was hard and bewildering. Of course nothing compared to what others in my family are feeling still, everyday, but a different experience because of the difference in time and distance. It felt awful. 


Gorillas.

Okay, I could narrate this whole set of pictures, but I know you aren't going to read anything. You're just going to jump ahead to the pictures of the beasts. What you can't tell from the photos is that I was a) not using telephoto most of the time and b) not photographing the gorillas when they were closest to me, that is, right beside me. One even gave me an incredibly gentle push as it ran by me. 

Enough talk! 

North part of Rwanda (where the gorillas are, in a protected park, sadly where Dianne Fossey is buried)

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BTW, a sliverback is an older male Mountain gorilla. The adolescents are black backs. This tribe had three silverbacks and a blackback. The only tension was between the beta and gamma silverbacks. There were four or so females and seven juvenilles. This is the alpha silverback being groomed. 

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Two silverbacks and a blackback. 


First round of tests

One of the challenges here, at least for me, is figuring out how to give feedback to individual students, including formative assessment like graded assignments. I have students do in class exercises but we post most of these on the board and all students are not necessarily fully engaged. I do have a warm up exercise that they all pass in but there's nearly 70 students in each class (steadily increasing from 45 present on the first week, another concerning issue) and hard to give useful feedback on them all. I just gave my first CAT (Continuing Assessment Test) and the students did quite well, although two of them clearly answered someone else's exam (I distributed 4 versions). 

The majority of the students' grades (marks) are earned during a 2 hour written final exam where 60% so formative assessment and project based assignments are not a priority. I will be giving a CAT that includes a program to email to me within the week but, realistically, I'm going to have to let them submit as groups. They are quite collaborative and, while I like this, it does make it hard to identify and address individual weaknesses and needs.  


Random Hacks of Kindness

Last weekend I was able to mentor KIST and other Rwandan students in the Random Hacks of Kindness Hackathon (Simmons students: we gotta do something like this!) 

It was a four nation, simul-cast event that had students coding for 36 hours. 

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I ended up being the person who "opened it up" for Rwanda, meaning that I introduced the event, live from Rwanda, as others were doing in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Students in all four countries formed groups and picked a topic that would have an impact (for good) in this world. This year's topic was 'resilience', with the idea that students would design software tools that would contribute to the resilience of this part of the world. 

One group came up with a clever way to determine whether soil is depleted and unable to bear healthy crops. Others suggested disaster communication protocols and emergency first aid. 

All students began working in earnest by mid-day Saturday and were hard at work when I left them Saturday night. 

(Side note: the KIST campus is very, very dark after the sudden equatorial night fall and I was not prepared to stay that late. Although, as I've said elsewhere on this blog, I am not concerned about personal crime, I am concerned about falling into holes in the dirt paths I take across campus in complete darkness. Fortunately students were wandering around with small flashlights and, very helpfully, white sneakers. I followed a couple of them out)

When I returned on Sunday morning, the students were not as fresh but they were still hard at work. We began judging at 2 pm and were done by 4:15. I bet the students were asleep by 5:04 It was a very exciting time.


An entry for Stef

This entry is dedicated to Stefanie Shattuck-Hufnagel. No, sadly, it's not a long description of the best chocolate in the world (which, quite frankly, must be somewhere else ...) but pictures of the flowering trees, shrubs and plants. This whole city is in bloom and, from what I can tell, continuously. No rough winds to shake the darling buds of May here. 

First, a sobering flower picture, taken on the KIST campus. In 1994, KIST was the site of the UN post whose members were among the first victims in the genocide. The bullet holes are still in the wall and there's stone obelisks to commemorate each of the ten people. 

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but, even here, are beautiful flowering trees! 

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Which are everywhere! 

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Mo-Jo back

Just in case you were worried that I was fading away, don't! Took CiPro on Monday morning and feeling much better.

In fact, I headed out to KLab (http://klab.rw/) yesterday afternoon. After being shown around the place, I met with a group of young entrepreneurs. One, in particular, warmed my heart. I was feeling a bit despondent about the availability of hands-on projects for students to implement. At KLab, I met a student who decided to form a club to get more out of the curriculum. He's an EE doing an Adrino project (everyone who doesn't understand that, just read "a cool hardware independent project"). Like many US students, I get the feeling that there is a basic misunderstanding of how far being a warm body in a lecture can get you.  In the US I tend to blame this on the standardized testing: the point of education is to pass a test and that, in itself, somehow, will be enough reward. Until no one cares what scores you got. At all. Not remotely. In this way, these students seem very much like the typical incoming college freshman. 

Reminds me of a reaction I got from a cousin when I talked about an institution I taught at (not Simmons! not KIST!) where cheating was rampant. He said, "but if they don't know what they're doing, won't they just get fired from any job they get?" I always wondered if 16 years of schooling and $160K of expenses was worth it to get briefly employed. Perhaps things are different outside of engineering and CS. 

Okay, off soap box. On to saying that the experience at KLab was refreshing and energizing and I'll be going there once/ week. I even felt well enough to take the bus -- whose motto is "everyone gets a seat". The seats are very small and some fold down over the aisle ...


Bravado compromised

 I had sailed through the first set of firsts (first class, first moto ride, first wandering around at night, first grocery shopping) and was pretty proud of myself. I mean, I was negotiating taxi fares with the best of them. But there's a time when you need (the royal "you") a second wind or your bravado gets, well, less brave. I had started to hit that wall. I realized I was avoiding things, like motos, motos at night, motos at night in the rain (well, that last thing is just going to be avoided) and then I got sick. 

The interesting thing about being sick far from home is how small and aprehensive you can feel. The fact that I had not yet learned where to buy, say, pepto-bizmo or, perhaps worse, that I don't know where I picked up these little gastric visitors, just made me curl up inside. I stayed in bed, listening to re-runs of This American Life

I wanted to tough it out, or more to the truth, I wanted it to just go away. But,  I resorted to CiPro. Wonderful things, drugs. Now I'm in my office, planning to take my first unaccompanied bus ride out to KLab. I'm feeling, like, that wasn't so bad. Perhaps I can eat again. Someday. 

One other note about being sick: here, in the less resourced clinics, patients are expected to buy their meds (even IV) and have their families provide food, attendance, clean linen if available. If someone doesn't have a family available, they're just alone in a room where someone on the staff checks up on them once a day. No one is going to feed or clean them. My roomate's clinic is now terribly understaffed: one doctor for 30 (high risk) births / day. The rule is: 20 minutes of labor and then a C-section.

I am glad I am teaching Engineering classes ....  




Working

I just wanted to post some pictures of KIST where I'm working. 

I walk from home, about 20 minutes away. The way is hilly. Very hilly. Once on campus, there are paths but there are more 'desire' paths -- basically dirt paths through the grass. A bunch of guys were cutting the fields with machetes last week and now it looks less wild: 

approach2Kist4.jpgThat's my office building (KIST 4) in the background. Here's another picture of the path: 

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And, from the other side, KIST 4 and KIST 3 look quite urban: 

kist4.jpgKist 4

SAM_0007.JPGKist 3

And my sole source of electricity and internet in my office. It seems to go on and off depending on whether a student in a nearby lab flips a switch or if a circuit breaker trips. 

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First week of teaching, but with very little info about teaching

So, after much preparation and moving into an office (more about it and pics next week), I finally taught my classes for the first time. I'd been warned by everyone "not to expect too much" so I was pleasantly suprised. I'd gotten myself worried that I'd have to review trig functions and I didn't. There are some students cruising in the back of the class but the majority are right down front, listening. I mean really listening. 

Anyway, some non-work related photos first: 

What I eat for breakfast since they don't seem to have oatmeal, even in the mazunga shops: 

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My backyard after a particularly heavy rain storm (the head of the department said that there were "ice balls") Those are bananas cut down in the prime of youth! Oh, the humanity!

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And, compared to the picture in the last post, this is the view down a busier, less tree lined street. Not all of the busy streets are this wide though. This was just a place I could snap a shot without being seen snapping a shot. There is building going on (like the scaffolded thing you see in the background) all over Kigali. 

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mmm


Pictures!

Okay, by popular demand (and, after I figured out how to downsample my pics): 

The view from my backyard: 

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The view down one tree-lined avenue: 

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The view from a pool-side chair at the Serena: 

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In answer to your questions:

Alejna: I've only seen one mosquito and it wasn't really interested in me. I've stopped using the net. Makes me feel penned in and this is an expansive country! 

The coffee is good but not, like, omigod great. The food is, well, perhaps I haven't gotten to the best food yet. I did find some lentils that were out of this world. And some "energizing porridge" bc there's no oatmeal. It's amaranth and, once you know that, not bad. 

The very few vegetables are very fresh and really good. It's a little sobering to realize how over-the-top stocked US supermarkets are. There's vegetables in the stores but not Whole Foods plenty and variety. I got spinach that was also very good. The avocadoes that grow in my backyard are the less tasty variety. The bananas taste a little sharper even when they've lost that dry and biting raw taste. I like 'em. 

However, I ate at one of the ubiquitous lunch buffets and it was pretty much all starch, even the things that looked like bananas in ketchup.  It cost $4.50 instead of the guide book's $3.75 so I felt briefly ripped off. However, ate so much that yoga a couple of hours later was really difficult. Speaking of constitutionally: I feel great. 

And Stan, the smells are really not so bad ... There's only one street that's a mad crush and it has the usual marking of crowded humanity carrying large things around (most people don't have cars so it's the only way to transport, say, a new table). However, there are streets that are spacious and tree lined and not so much humanity crushing. I'll post some pics tomorrow (yes, I actually took some pictures ...) 


Arrived!

Arrived almost 48 hours ago after 18 hrs traveling. The first thing you notice is the weather: warm but dry. It surprised me because it's dark early but balmy. And there are the palm trees and summer growing things smells. I spent the next day doing the two most important things: visa and internet. The visa was a confusing process since you have to apply (preferably online although it doesn't seem to save you any steps) and then take a number to present your papers and then go somewhere else and pay and then return to get a tracking number. And then wait 3 days. I was startled when they took my passport (and keep it until the visa comes through). Perhaps I've seen too many movies.

The next step was internet. Boring but important.Or I wouldn't be writing to you right now. 

And today, I did two monumental things: bought a French Press and went to KIST. Apparently there was a sudden change in schedule last weekend: school starts THIS week. However, students were not aware of it, let alone profs. I certainly was surprised. Perhaps 'surprised' is going to be my word here. I did find out that graduation had been rescheduled to tomorrow and I've been outfitted with a cap and gown to participate.

All of this explanation is pretty dry. And no pictures yet. It's a texture thing: the hills, the cool sun, the bustle in the streets with people walking! walking! walking! or taking motos that cruise around continuously looking for paying riders. There are vans and taxis and some cars and zebra cross walks that mean nothing (did you first parse that as "zebra" bc I'm in Africa?) . The first time I went out, I felt ambushed by the newness, by the disconnect you feel when you don't understand anything anyone is saying, the rush of a thousand details different than the back drop you've been taking for granted. By the second and third trips, things seemed to settle down into categories: okay, just a store, okay just an intersection, okay just two people talking. Perhaps the trick with noticing is ignoring the superfluous.

Okay, getting philosophical; time to stop. I have to be at graduation at 7:30/ 8 am.


Making friends

Had brunch with Joyce Fletcher, an SOM connection. She is involved with this wonderful project:  the Maranyundo School (www.maranyundo.org).. I won't go much into it now but check out the link. The emphasis on girls is inspiring. The school has become the best middle school in Rwanda.

I've also gotten contacts from CMU (which has a satellite campus in Kigali), Gardens in Health (http://gardensforhealth.org), Partners in Health and K-Lab (http://klab.rw/). Should keep me busy. 

Okay, so back to packing .... 


Out of the Blue

So, it seems that the City of Cambridge has gone on record to recognize the Fulbright. I was a bit suprised to get the suitable-for-framing document in the mail. I guess I can only thank Leland Cheung who goes out of his way to do things like this. 

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More preparations, more excitment

Okay, so I've been bad about keeping the world updated on the minutia of preparation. To make a long story short, I've been interviewing, or rather, being interviewed by, roommates. Yes. With the KIST guest house kitchen-less, I'm looking for a home. It's particularly interesting looking for a home in a place I've never seen. 

First choice (chronological order, not preference): in the Kigali equivalent of Belmont. Residential, everyone has a car, about 5 miles from the nearest hub of activity. And the buses apparently are awful. I'm not afraid of the occassional moto but 20 minutes x twice/day x 5-6 days/ week for 4 months seems like playing Russian Roulette. Alone. Six times.

Next choice: two brothers (from the Netherlands?). Am skyping with them tomorrow. Small room, close to KIST. Dog.

Third, and most recent choice: One long term ex-pat (who has a very amusing blog:  livinginkigali.com) and one who arrived more recently. Only rub: her husband and mine will be visiting at the same time. I've lived in group houses before and the idea always appealed to me. Now that I think about it, the reality was somewhat more dramatic than I like these days. Question: was it me? them? or just being 20 years old? Probably a lot to be said for getting older and wiser (and having somewhat diminished hearing and memory) 

Rest of the prep: buying stuff. Alejna took a picture of me and my new camera ('art being self-conscious') 

camera.JPGHave also gotten a printer, a projector and white board sheets. And two different Signals and Systems quick guides. So far, S&S is coming back to me pretty quickly. 


Preparations underway!

I have been busy getting together materials to support teaching while I'm there. It looks like I'll still be teaching Object Oriented programming and Signals and Systems. It's been, hmmm, almost 20 years since I've taught S&S (can that be true??!!) so it should be exciting for all involved. 

I've discovered that there's such a thing as "whiteboard sheets" -- that is sheets of white board surface paper that you put up on the wall (it clings...) and write on it if one's white board has, e.g. been washed with an abrasive and no longer dry-erases. I've got a roll of whiteboard on order from amazon. Do you think they'll have plenty of dry erase markers? (this said in a sweet naive but sarcastic voice -- it's hard to find dry erase markers where I currently sit at the Simmons)

I'm also collecting a small printer and projector. I'll have a tiny portable office by the time I leave! 

Final thing: went to the police station in Cambridge last week to get my "Good Conduct Letter". Realized why I stay out of police stations: a woman was loudly and passionately complaining about a false complaint lodged against her .... six years ago. Apparently all involved (other police, teacher who lodged complaint) are cocaine addicts, according to a very good source (someone they went to high school with). I just paid my $20 and snuck away. 


More me, not yet in Rwanda

Found a couple of other people's blogs on their Fulbright's in Rwanda. 

One, http://dpfeldman2.blogspot.com/ (Dave Feldman) even had pictures (oh! Alfie! listen to me say 'pictures'!) of the (or a similar) room that will be mine. Seems to make a huge amount of difference for my ability to image my life there. Other helpful info in that and another blog ( https://sites.google.com/site/drperduesite/about/fulbright (Diane Perdue)), included the on and off electricity, the three different languages used (French, English and Kinyarwandan), the potentially large classes without chalk boards, let alone projectors, and, as Diane Perdue puts it "E-learning without the E". I was heartened to learn that, although the lecture was common, there was enthusiasm for different pedagogical paradigms. 

Jon and Alejna suggest that I should be posting 360 degree panoramic pictures demonstrating the conspicuous lack of gorlllas while I'm still in the states. Otherwise, it'd just be photos of me filling out forms ... 


More pre-departure details

I am currently gathering credentials about myself that I haven't had to present to anyone in years: my degrees, my criminal records. Somehow, at my age, it seems remote, like it really was someone else who got an ScB in 1979. I also continue to worry about my two-name decision; I have a legal name that I took when I married a widower and adopted his two children and a professional name that had already seen a bit of use. As a professional, I'm one person; as a legal US citizen another. I've gotten a lot of mileage over the years by having an uncommon first name (I mean, how many Nanettes do you know?) 

At Simmons, I'm winding down. Today I hand off the CAS assessment committee responsibility to Niloufer and the CS program mantle to Bruce. I'd like to shift the iComps work to Ellen but she's cleverly decided to be on sabbatical this year as well. Handing off is much easier with google drive ... just share a folder full of stuff! On a positive note, I'm less (not un- but less) concerned about the fate of the CS program after meeting with the new (G)S(L)IS Dean. Also, our enrollments are looking strong for the fall. Perhaps young women have decided that CS is not just a boy's club ... again.  


Fulbright Orientation

So, from the blogging guidelines from Fulbright, the suggested disclaimer

This site is not an official Fulbright Program site. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of its author (Nanette Veilleux) and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.


The views may not reflect those of Simmons College either. Possibly not even of Nanette Veilleux, say, in a year. Time will tell. 

Found out that I'm immune to Measles, Mumps and Rubella. Thought I was. Vividly remember two of the three diseases, tucked into my mother's bed with Peggy and Joey (also sick at the same time, of course) wearing blue plastic sunglasses to protect our eyes. Frankly, I don't remember actually feeling unwell.

Also found out that it takes a few phone calls to get a four month supply of malaria medicine since the standard insurance limit is 90 pills. Not insurmountable but apparently worth discussing with care givers, pharamacies as well as insurance providers.


First blog entry: here we go!

There's about 5 million things to do and not enough time to do them all! I have to finish up responsibilities at Simmons, which include transitioning our department to the (currently named) Graduate School of Library and Information Science. That's on my mind as well as the personal responsibilites that I'll have to let go of during my absence. It's an odd feeling to drop out of your usual life for four months: students, research, administration, political groups, my family and yeah, my kids (okay, they're grown up, but...) -- all of these threads interupted for a time. 

Naively, I thought it would feel liberating ...


Welcome!

Associate Professor Nanette Veilleux has been awarded a Fulbright Grant to teach computer engineering at the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) in Rwanda. Follow along on her journey.

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This site is not an official Fulbright Program site. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of its author (Nanette Veilleux) and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.

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