Graduating Student Spotlight: Ben Ndayambaje

Ben Ndayambaje speaks with a local child as he explores connections between water quality and childhood stunting in Rwanda for his dissertation research
Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Graduating Student Spotlight: Ben Ndayambaje

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 individuals with diverse experience from around the world who are graduating this year. Ben Ndayambaje will receive his doctorate in natural resource sciences during May’s ceremonies. 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?

The interest in my field goes back to the day when I was pursuing my undergraduate degree, maybe little bit earlier than that growing up as child! I was born in exile in a neighboring country, Uganda. My family rasied cattle, especially local longhorned Ankole cows, for generations.  The cow was a sign of riches, partnership, collaboration, and togetherness. In every long school holiday, my dad used to take me to visit my grandpa in the village, and I enjoyed looking after cows with him. He gave me a cow and that felt so good when she gave birth. Grandpa used to treat his cows with local medicine, which was great, but we lost a few. Losing a cow was one of the saddest moments in our family, as we valued them so much. I knew then that when I grew up, I would study veterinary science and go back and save our cows. Since then, my interest in and love for animals has grown. I ended up pursuing Veterinary Medicine in undergraduate program, and developed even more the interest in how human and animal health are interrelated. To have a solid understanding of the interconnections between humans and animals in a shared environment, I went on to pursue a master of science in Global Health/ One Health. This provided me with a strong understanding of the complex linkage between human-animal health in a shared ecosystem.   

What have been some challenges you’ve faced here? Opportunities? Things that surprised you? 

As a graduate from over 800 miles away in a tropical climate, the main challenge I faced was more about adjusting to the different climate and seasons in Lincoln, in addition to the food tasting different, making new friends, adjusting to different cultures (I believe  this is shared with most of the international students). Along the way, I managed to adjust to the climate, made friends that became more like family, and I am happy to call Nebraska home. While at UNL, my professional network grew bigger and stronger. As a graduate student, I won a couple of awards such traveling grants, scholarships and fellowships, which permitted me to attend diverse conferences both locally and internationally.  I strongly believe these achievements and opportunities couldn’t have been possible if wasn’t for the great UNL support system, which made me a better thinker and researcher. My surprise was how people in the university system and outside community are so friendly, welcoming, and kind to strangers! I called myself a stranger, and usually it takes me a minute to connect with strangers, but I connected to them so smoothly and easily.

How has your time at Nebraska impacted you in what you will go on to do?

My time in Nebraska has a lifelong impact, both in mind and body. I was prepared and grew into a better scientist throughout the last couple of years of my program. I look forward to using the knowledge and skills gained to impact human and animal health in their shared ecosystem, and make world a better place. As a graduate student, I realized it’s equally important to balance professional/academic and social life. I developed a workout routine spirit by jogging and bike-riding as part of staying healthy, and for stress release, but also to connect with others.

Who is your advisor? Anything you’d like to share about them? Or say to them? 

Dr. VanWormer, is my advisor; I can’t thank her enough for support and kindness. I met her while she was doing some work in Rwanda. During her presentation, she shared much about her interesting research work in One Health, and that caught my attention. I approached her after the presentation and told her about my interest in One Health and applied ecology. Later she invited me to visit campus and gave me the opportunity to work under her supervision. My sincere gratitude for her as my lead advisor, for her diligent supervision and inspiration from day one. I have grown into a better person and scholar under her guidance. For her support, patience, motherliness, and belief in me even when I doubted myself, I will always be grateful and heed advice given to me.

Many people have contributed to this milestone, to list a few: my earnest appreciation to Dr. Tiffany Heng-Moss (Dean, College Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources), and Mr. Josh Davis (Chief of Staff and Associate to the Chancellor) for affording me the opportunity to pursue a graduate program, and Mr. Blayne Logan Sharpe (Director of International Recruitment) for undivided support and guidance through the admission processes. I owe a debt of gratitude to all my dissertation committee members, Drs. Helen Raikes, Yi Qi, and Andrew Benson for the diligent encouragement, invaluable feedback and comments that helped me to think critically and shape my research. I would not have achieved this without their concern and astute advice. 


Are you or someone you know graduating this year (or the future) with an international element to your work, studies, or experiences you'd like to see highlighted? Contact Brianne at