CORNING - A group of Corning Inc. scientists spent eight days in August in Kigali, Rwanda, as part of a conference where it helped promote skills and values in STEM to young people at the University of Rwanda.

Members of that group told stories of the trip at The Radisson Hotel Corning Saturday.

Dr. Shandon Hart, a research scientist with Corning Inc., was one of the scientists who went on the trip. Talking about his trip, Hart described his experience as an enriching and perspective-broadening journey.

“I found it to be very fulfilling, and those words don’t really do it justice,” he said.

The group included Claudine and Eric Biribuze, Odessa Petzold, Joel Schultes, Kathy and Kenneth Hrdina, and Hart. Everyone in the group possesses collective experience in research, engineering, ceramics, optical fibers, Gorilla Glass, other specialty glass, and more, as well as significant knowledge in STEM.

The group spent its time speaking and holding multiple workshops as part of the 20th annual Africa Arise and Shine Conference that took place Aug. 3-Aug. 11.

“What [the Corning Inc. scientists] brought on the table, it was more of their knowledge, their skills,” said Claudine Biribuze, a Senior Commercial Analyst in Advanced Optics within Corning Inc.’s Specialty Materials Division, as well as an organizer of the conference. “[The scientists] were able to inspire youth and students to be able to advance their careers as well.”

Eric Biribuze, Business Excellence Director with Corning Inc.'s Automative Glass Solutions Division, said the entire trip was very rewarding for him.

“The experience was really powerful. I’m originally from the region. It was very amazing to see in Africa through the lenses of my colleagues in Corning,” he said. “When I saw African students engaging with my other fellow colleagues, it reminded me of when I was in China 30 years ago.”

Eric Biribuze, who completed his undergraduate studies at Northeastern University in China, said he sees similarities between today’s Africa and China throughout the 1980s and 1990s, when market reforms and a shifting national mood catapulted the Chinese state and economy to heights that are seen today.

“There’s this energy; this belief that the future’s going to be better; the desire to absorb as much as possible,” he said. “I think I see the same parallels between 30 years ago with China, and today where Africa is in terms of youth.”

The goal of the Arise and Shine Conference, coordinated through the Rwandan-based Authentic Word Ministries, is to promote seven core spheres to African youth and young adults that are essential for communities: family, religion, education, government and politics, business, media, and sports and entertainment.

“Since 2000, every year we bring together African people, and we call people who are experts on each subject to try to help African people to understand how we can do good in leadership, in business, in education,” said Dr. Paul Gitwaza, the founder and International President of Authentic Word Ministries. “This year we brought scientists from Corning to speak about education and business.”

By promoting these areas, the conference intended to instill the values and skills in African youth that are required of a young, skilled workforce, said Gitwaza. He added that the continent has tremendous potential for economic, community and infrastructure development, due to the amount of young people throughout Africa’s 54 countries.

Instilling a growth mindset into the minds of African youth is also a major goal that conference organizers and speakers hope to achieve.

“Some of the youth may think they can get there shortly, but life is not like that. Or [they may think] that they cannot make it,” said Claudine Biribuze. “It requires dedication, it requires great values, it requires you to work hard, and it requires you to have patience to know you’re going to get there, but it’s not going to happen overnight. You have to work for it.”

But Gitwaza has no doubts that Rwanda and the rest of Africa is on the rise, and he believes the Arise and Shine conference plays a part in that. He said the spirit of the African people is healthy and vibrant, especially in Rwanda, which endured a terrible genocide in 1994 that killed an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 people, mostly of the Tutsi ethnic minority.

The country has gone through a long road to recovery since and has made significant strides. Today, Rwanda is one of the most advanced economies in Africa and continues to improve.

“We cannot do this without having a good heart and a good soul,” said Gitwaza. “In Rwanda, we have been through genocide. But now, there is a process of healing and forgiveness.”

The group plans to attend the Africa Arise and Shine Conference next year, to be held July 12-19, 2020, to continue where it left off.