First in the Family: Scholarship puts college education within reach

Gilbert Bwetabure

In 2011, along with his mother and two older sisters, 15-year-old Gilbert Bwetabure moved from Uganda to the Chicago suburbs. He dared to dream that despite his family’s financial challenges, a college education was within reach. 

Through the generosity of donors, that hope has become a reality. The NIU Foundation Impact Scholarship helped Bwetabure receive an industrial and systems engineering degree from the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology.

Bwetabure became his family’s first college graduate in December 2018. It came only slightly longer than three years after he enrolled at NIU. The next month, he began working as quality unit lead for automobile manufacturer Chrysler’s plant in Kokomo, Indiana.

“I am very grateful for the scholarship, which helped me focus on academics and not be pulled away by working too much,” Bwetabure said. “The scholarship helped push me closer to graduation.”

Bwetabure traces his success partly to the strong work ethic modeled by his mother, Jean. “My mum works two jobs to pay bills and put food on the table,” he said. “Living in a new country is challenging, but I was determined to do whatever I could to accomplish my goals.” While at NIU, Bwetabure worked about 20 hours a week as a tutor in the Division of Academic Affairs. He was also part of the University Honors Program, the African Students Association, the NIU Soccer Club and the National Society for Black Engineers.

Bwetabure plans to earn a master’s degree as well as the know-how and experience necessary to launch his own engineering firm. Fittingly, he is drawn to the field because of its potential to make a positive global impact: “I believe in changing the world,” he said. “I want to make it a better place for people to work and live in.”