Grad Spotlight: Isaac Rukundo
This is a continuation of our "IANR is Global" series, which highlights the many ways internationalization is woven through the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources: through research collaboration, government and private industry partnerships, extension work, student educational experiences and the IANR community from around the world.
This edition is specifically focused on the many diverse individuals with experience from around the world who are graduating this year and last year. Isaac Rukundo graduated in December 2020 with his doctoral degree in food science and technology and a minor in statistics. We appreciate the community we are fortunate to have from all over the world, as shown by their many and varied contributions to the work of the university and our continued mission to create a globally engaged institution. To this end, we want to help our campus community get to know each other (and the world) more, starting with these individuals.
How did your first get interested in your field? What was your previous education?
After high school, I had the choice between medical school (for dentistry) and the next big science at the time – food science and technology. Because we had many dentists and not as many food scientists, I opted for the latter. This Ph.D. makes my third food science and technology degree. I decided to add a minor in statistics to enhance my ability to contribute to research, especially big data analysis.
Tell me about your path to Nebraska
When I completed my master’s degree in Belgium, I returned to work with Makerere University, in Uganda, with the plan to go back to Europe for a Ph.D. This was when I met Dr. Curtis Weller, the Food Science department head at UNL. My conversation with him led me to change my mind about Europe and take on Nebraska. The rest, as they say, is history. I have not regretted my choice because Nebraska has been a terrific home and offered me a great piece of education.
What have been some challenges you’ve faced here? Opportunities? Things that surprised you?
Challenges? Not many. As a native of a tropical country, the cold weather might have been challenging. However, I have lived in colder places (read: Fargo), so I was somewhat immune to the winter.
Opportunities? Plenty: I have attended and presented my research at several international conferences, at which I received multiple awards and recognition. As part of my research, I traveled to Mongolia with my advisor, where I spent nearly a month collecting data and supporting efforts to start a near infrared analysis lab. I have met loving, kind, and gracious people in and outside the university setting. I have built lasting connections at Nebraska and beyond.
Surprises? Again, not many. I came to Nebraska and UNL with an open mind. As such, I embraced the culture and traditions as I found them. I integrated relatively quickly, and I have continued to learn a great deal about cultural differences. I am blessed to have lived in or traveled to multiple countries and cities, and every place has a lot to offer if one is willing to adapt.
Who was your advisor? Anything you’d like to share about them? Or say to them?
Dr. Mary-Grace Danao was my advisor. She has taught me a lot. I am a better thinker, writer, researcher, scholar – thanks to her guidance. Dr. Weller, my co-advisor, thank you for your fatherliness and guardianship. I also thank my dissertation committee for their wisdom and correction.
What do you plan to do now? What are your future goals/plans?
In the short term, I will stay in Lincoln, take a short break as I look at the multiple options to take for a career path. Perhaps, I will take on a post-doc position, pending availability. My future plan is to take on a faculty position that leans heavily on teaching and extension. However, I intend to keep supporting research and scholarship with a focus on data analysis and dissemination.
How has your time at Nebraska impacted you in what you will go on to do?
Like many places I have lived or traveled to, Nebraska is unique. The experiences at UNL, Lincoln, and Nebraska have all contributed to shaping my perspective and increasing my tolerance. I have an even better appreciation of diversity and inclusion issues.
Are you or someone you know graduating this year (or the future) and have an international element to your work, studies or experiences you'd like to see highlighted? Contact Brianne at email@example.com.