From a Tanzania refugee camp to Rockwell Collins

Kwizera Imani is one of 352 students from across the United States who spent the summer as an intern at Rockwell Collins. He also is a member of Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad's Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Advisory Council. (Enlarge image)

Kwizera Imani was 10 years old when he first set foot on a commercial airliner. Bright-eyed with excitement, yet a bit apprehensive, the Tanzania native and his family of nine were bound for a new life in America.

Born in Kigoma — a historic trading town and lake port in western Tanzania — Imani was familiar with the military fighter jets that soared above the Mtabila refugee camp where he and his six siblings spent their childhood. But the commercial airliner, and the flights from Tanzania to Kenya to London to New York to Iowa, sparked his interest in aviation.

Today, the 2015 Des Moines North High School graduate — whose family was selected by the United Nations in 2007 to migrate to America — is one of 352 students from across the U.S. who are completing summer internships and co-ops at Rockwell Collins.

“Moving to America was such a blessing,” said Imani, whose parents had migrated to the Mtabila refugee camp following the 1994 Rwandan genocide that had spread to their native country of Burundi, Africa.

“When we lived in the refugee camp, my parents relied mostly on food donated to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to feed their family,” he continued. “Sometimes, they planted food in a garden. It wasn’t a pleasant life. We didn’t have much, but that’s the only life I knew.”

What the family did have, however, was a great deal of faith and love, and a little bit of luck. In fact, Imani will never forget the day that his father — who had only a sixth-grade education — told him and his siblings to collect their things and prepare to leave the camp. The date was Feb. 22, 2007, just five days after Imani’s 10th birthday.

“I thought we were going on a vacation or something,” recalled Imani, now 18. “But once we got to Iowa — where the temperature was about 70 degrees colder than what I was used to — I realized we weren’t going back. This was my new life and I needed to adjust.”

Without knowing how to speak or read one word of English, Imani entered fifth grade at his new elementary school in Des Moines, Iowa, and quickly met a new friend. Realizing the importance of learning the English language, Imani asked his mother — who had no formal education — if he could live with his friend’s family for a couple of months. His intention was to practice the language he was learning in school.

“Both of my parents did physically hard work in order to provide only the basics for their family and they wanted more for us,” said Imani. “They knew how important it was for us to learn English and to get an education. To this day, they believe an education will help provide a better way of life and they have instilled that in me.

“Learning has always been the thing that motivates me and my strength has always been in mathematics,” continued Imani. “For some reason, math makes sense to me. So, I decided to pursue a career in engineering.”

For Imani — who also completed four years of U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) in high school — that career is already well underway. This summer, the 18-year-old gained real-life work experience at Rockwell Collins that helped confirm his career choice. It also helped him determine where he ultimately wants to work.

“Rockwell Collins has done so much for me already,” said Imani, who will major in aerospace engineering at Iowa State University this fall. “I’ve been given an inside look at the great things this company does and I’ve worked with so many intelligent people. I’ve experienced what it’s like to live on my own and I’m already building my professional network.”

If all goes according to Imani’s plan, he will receive his engineering degree in four years and then be offered a full-time job at Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which is just two hours from where his parents and siblings now reside on the south side of Des Moines.

“I already know Rockwell Collins is where I want to be,” said Imani, who spent the summer working on black label software for IMS-60X0, a product that’s part of our Pro Line Fusion flight deck. “The company is known for great products, but it also takes care of its people.”

According to Antoine Perez-Vernon, technical project manager for our Information Management System (IMS) product line, it didn’t take long for Imani to become a contributing member of the Pro Line Fusion team.

In fact, Perez-Vernon — himself a former co-op student — is still impressed with Imani’s passion for aviation and his commitment to his Rockwell Collins internship.

“We worked day and night and he was very committed to the project,” said Perez-Vernon, who served as Imani’s mentor. “He wanted to learn and he did exactly that. Today, I don’t see him as an intern. I see him as a member of our team.”

The black label software and user guides that were part of Imani’s summer project are scheduled for entry into service this September. Don Kearney, senior security engineering manager in Airborne Information Solutions Software, also has hired Imani to work remotely on a part-time basis during his freshman year of college.

“Imani is exactly the type of employee we want at Rockwell Collins,” said Kearney. “He is willing to try or learn about anything. He has a positive attitude and knows what he wants out of life. He’s all about working hard and doing the right thing. He’s the full package and we were blessed to have him as an intern this summer.”

Click here for more information about our summer internship and co-op program.

Story posted: August 14, 2015

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