Student Profile: Batanda Kayondo - Class of 2017-Carnegie Mellon University Africa - Carnegie Mellon University

Student Profile: Batanda Kayondo - Class of 2017

Before CMU-R:

Having received a scholarship from the Ministry of Education of Uganda, Batanda left his home town of Kampala, Uganda in 2011 to study for his BSc in Computer Science in Osmania University in Hyderabad, India.  It was his first time outside Uganda, it was thrilling to be independent for the first time but also daunting to be away from his family and friends.

There were a lot of people in India and all looked very similar to me! The food looked delicious but was really spicy. I found a strong community of Ugandan students in Hyderabad and I was hosted by the Ugandan Student President while I settled in, he was a great help to me.  

On the first day of class, many of my colleagues came to greet me. Names were really hard at the start. So was the Indian accent, but the lecturers were really patient with us.” 

BatandaLater on, Batanda was himself elected president of the Ugandan Students Association, and became one of the founders of the African students association. 

He returned to Uganda and worked on a number of projects as a contractor for the Ministry of Defence on national ID cards, the Office of President collecting data on engaging youth voters and in the private sector as IT administration for a private residential development. 

A more lucrative position took him to Kigali to work as webmaster for Rwanda Focus, a weekly English publication. He also wrote their technology page, and a story he was writing on Girls in ICT took him to Telecom House, home of CMU-R: 

As I was taking the elevator, I saw the CMU-R banner. I was amazed as I knew CMU as one of the best engineering schools in the world, and here it was in Kigali! 

That very day I enquired if I could apply, but I had just missed the last deadline and was intending to apply for the next intake. When I mentioned already had IELTS scores, the admissions team allowed me to apply if I could sit for GRE very quickly. 

I took the very next GRE test available, one week later. I began to study for it while on the bus back to Kampala!” 

He gained admission to the 2015 intake and left his position with Rwanda Focus, after only 2months, to start the orientation in August 2015.

While at CMUR: 

At the time Batanda accepted the place in CMU-R, the only financial aid available to him was the 50% scholarship from the Government of Rwanda. Even with this help, the fees were not affordable to him: 

“It was a lot of money but I really did want to come to school. My thinking was: Let me go, study, and see how far I can go. I was happy to be a student at Carnegie Mellon even for just a week. ” 

“The orientation program was very fruitful, we learned a lot and it prepared our minds for the program at CMU-R. The staff and faculty really helped us and the activities were so packed we didn’t think about the money problem.” 

There were a total of seven students from East Africa in the same situation as Batanda. As orientation was ending, he obtained a Directors Grant, which covered part of the tuition and was offered a student job to cover the remaining fees for the first semester. It was still unclear what would happen after his first semester. 

“Combining work and studies was easy in the first month, but became very challenging after that. At times I would leave campus at 3am, on lucky nights at 1am.” 

“The student work I was given was based on my experience as a webmaster and the CMU-R staff that we work with are very patient and understand the workload we have as students.” 

Smart Africa scholarsSoon after this, the Smart Africa Scholarships Fund was announced, during the Transform Africa Summit in Kigali, October 2015. This fund is accessible by students at any recognized Centre of Excellence under the Smart Africa Initiative and Batanda was one of seven CMU-R students who were the first recipients of the scholarship. He now had funding for the rest of his studies and could realize his dream of becoming a Carnegie Mellon University graduate. 

CMU-R introduced Batanda to Data Science, which he initially took as a required core subject but later found it was his true passion and has now chosen it for his degree concentration.

“I like that the professors taught in a way to put the emphasis on Africa and how they encouraged us to be solution to challenges in Africa rather than flying out to other places. They also encouraged us to believe in ourselves” 

Working in CMU-R, I have gotten the chance to network and the guest speakers are a great source of inspiration: People who are attempting to change the world and make it a better place.” 

For his internship, Batanda is working with Executive Design-Deen Global based in Toronto, Canada. The company is looking into the talent development of young soccer players, Batanda is developing a web and mobile media service app, to help young player showcase their abilities, and scouts and managers to find and develop talent. 

“Unlike the companies I’ve worked with in Africa, the Canadian company is giving me a lot more artistic freedom. There is a space to co-create but you need to defend why you think in the particular why or why you make certain design decisions. 

Working alone and working remotely is challenging. This project is teaching me time management because of the strict deadlines and the remote working.” 

Life after CMU-R: 

Batanda has completed his first year of studies in CMU-R. Next year he is looking forward to the Practicum project, once more having the opportunity for direct connection with industry. He is also looking forward to the Independent Study elective, which he will undertake in the area of Data Science. He hopes it will allow him the opportunity to co-author publications with professors at CMU-R who are leaders in this field. 

When asked about his plans for after he has completed his studies: 

“It seems a long way away at the moment. I have one more year left. 

I am looking forward to developing solutions meant for Africa and Africans and encouraging data driven decisions both in the public and private sector.”

Related Links

MSIT Program in Rwanda

http://www.cmu.edu/rwanda/degree-program/msit/index.html