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Stop 1: China

Serge Bakire was living in China when he was accepted into Sanford's international Master of Environmental Policy program, which is also based in China (Duke Kunshan).

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Stop 2: Congo & Rwanda

Serge left China due to the pandemic and studied at home in Rwanda. The upside? He also conducted research for his master's thesis in person in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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Stop 3: Durham, NC

Serge Bakire has spent the last semester of his master's program in Durham, NC at Duke. Even so, he says he's grateful and happy with his experience.

Serge Bakire earned an international Master of Environmental Policy (iMEP) degree that was a little more “international” than he first imagined. The degree is offered jointly by Duke University and Duke Kunshan University. When Bakire applied, the Rwandan native was already living in China, having finished his first master’s degree there.

For the iMEP, he expected to spend three semesters at Duke Kunshan University and one semester at Duke in Durham. That’s when things took an unexpected turn. Bakire went on vacation with his extended family to Indonesia in early 2020.

“We were on a two-week vacation, and suddenly, here’s this new disease. We didn’t know what it was is. There were a lot of unknowns,” Bakire recalls.

So he booked a flight home to Rwanda, thinking he’d would be there for a few weeks until COVID cleared up. That was two years ago. Bakire ended up taking all of his classes – his entire degree program except the last semester - remotely from his hometown in Rwanda.

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Serge Bakire in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Due to the pandemic, Bakire was able to conduct research in the DRC for his master's project.

Silver Lining

This situation, which might have seemed disappointing at first, had a silver lining. Because he was based in Africa, Bakire was able to work closely with Patrick Ward, assistant professor of environmental economics and policy at Duke Kunshan University, on a timely master’s project.  The team evaluated the impact of the use of NGO-donated solar refrigerators on vaccine distribution in a health district in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

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Man, woman and child, Duke chapel in background
In addition to finishing his degree, Serge and wife Heather welcomed a new Blue Devil this semester, Baby Aiden!

Bakire, who speaks French and Swahili as well as English, became the local point person on the project. He took research trips to the DRC. He met with officials in the region to get approval for the research and visited health centers.

That project became his master’s thesis, and the team has submitted their research for publication.

Even though he often took classes at 2 a.m. local time to accommodate the time difference between Rwanda and China, he raves about his experience.

“It was amazing how accommodating the school was,” he says. During the pandemic, “they tried their best and we had an experience that maybe is not very common (studying remotely), but I am super happy.”

He especially appreciates the scholarship that allowed him to study in the program in the first place. His father is a pastor, and his mother is a tailor.

“For someone from a low-income country,” he says, “I couldn’t afford this [type of education on my own]. I am grateful for this opportunity.”

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About Our Graduates

Students graduate Friday May 6 from the Sanford School with undergraduate, Master of Public Policy, Master of International Development Policy,  international Master of Environmental Policy and PhD degrees.  

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