EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) – Jean Marie Uwimana is the 2020 recipient of the University of Southern Indiana’s President’s Medal. The medal is the highest honor presented to a graduating senior student.

“This is not something that happens everyday. This is the first time we have had an international student achieve this award,” said Uwimana.

Receiving the president’s medal is a major accomplishment, but for Uwimana the accomplishment is even more amazing, considering where he started. He grew up in the Tongogara Refugee Camp in Zimbabwe.

“Education and looking at my story has been the centerpoint, it has been the focal point of my success getting from the refugee camp to USI,” Uwimana said. “The one thing that has been constant and got me to this point is education.  My time in the refugee camp it just showed me a path to success and that was through education.”

Uwimana said USI officials including President Ron Rochon helped him reach his maximum potential.

“I didn’t get here by myself and (Dr. Rochon) was the one who started the scholarship, I am a part of the Global Ambassador Scholarship and this was one way to thank (Rochon) and (Associate Provost for International Programs) Heidi Gregori-Gahan, who also started the ambassador scholarship and just thanking them for bringing me to this point.”

As a student, Uwimana served in many campus leadership roles. Now, he wants to use what he has learned to give back. He said he and his friends have started a non-profit to help high school students working with the education system.

“If I can just inspire one student to believe in themselves and give them hope they can also do it,” Uwimana said. “I feel like that’s an achievement that I think I’ll be proud of myself even more if I can help other students believe in themselves.”

Life may not have looked promising for Uwimana when he arrived at the refugee camp 20 years ago – but now it is full of potential as he leaves USI with a 4.0 GPA and a double major in economics and mathematics.

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(This story was originally published on May 8, 2020)