Isaac Kabuika ’20 doesn’t get much sleep, but you would never be able to tell. The neuroscience and computer science double major just started an IT Learning Program to help underprivileged populations in Lewiston, Maine, in addition to taking five classes this semester.
“My friends have not seen me much this semester,” Kabuika joked.
In 2014 and at age 18, Kabuika moved to Lewiston from the Democratic Republic of Congo to live with family members. He enrolled at Lewiston High School as a junior.
“The only thing I really thought about at that time was learning English, doing well, and taking classes that would allow me to graduate,” Kabuika said.
He had two years to complete all eight semesters of high school requirements.
“The plan was for me to go to some kind of special program for adults. College was not something I was thinking about. The only thing I thought really deeply about was trying to catch up,” he said.
The first time someone asked Kabuika about college, he was surprised.
“I started thinking about community college. Then, more people came to me and suggested I should apply to other types of colleges and universities.”
Kabuika knew he wanted to stay in Maine in order to avoid another difficult transition. He started by looking at Bates College, but was discouraged after a meeting with an admissions officer.
“I didn’t go and read about Bowdoin right away. I started to work on the application because people I trusted told me it was a very good school,” he said. “By the time I read about the College, I realized it is the toughest to get into in Maine. I said, ‘You know, let’s try it. I’m already writing this anyway.’”
In his second year at the College, Kabuika embodies what it means to be a liberal arts student. His studies are shaped by his academic curiosity and a never-ending quest to understand.
In particular, Kabuika is interested in investigating the drastic difference between the U.S. and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“That, I don’t think, can be grasped by one discipline,” he said. “My interest is essentially to learn as much as I can about different things and integrate them to make sense of what I see. Essentially, that’s just curiosity.”
After Kabuika arrived at Bowdoin, some of his friends from Lewiston expressed interest in learning about his computer science studies. They said they wanted to learn about programs such as Excel and Word.
“I said that’s not really what computer science is about. I wished them good luck,” Kabuika said. “After hanging up, I realized, wait a minute; you did the exact same thing people did to you before coming here. I called back and I said, ‘Friends, you know what? Give me a few days, and I’m going to figure something out.’”
This conversation prompted him to start the IT Learning Program, which Kabuika described as “essentially, trying to talk to the old me.”
He continued, “In Lewiston, I noticed one of the things that was really difficult for me was accessing information and having opportunities to do things with what I learned.”
The learning program reaches out to first-generation immigrants and other under-privileged Lewiston residents who lack formal training in the kinds of technological skills required by today’s job market, such as proficiency in Word and Excel.
Kabuika does not see himself as a teacher. Instead, he believes his role is to introduce the program’s participants to the field of information technology.
“I’m not attempting to teach people to code, but I’m attempting to let people know what coding is and to give them directions about what they may want to do if they’re interested,” he said.
Kabuika believes the field of IT could provide stability to the individuals with whom he works. In high school, a chance encounter with an inspirational computer science teacher inspired Kabuika to take computer science classes and enter into competitions.
“I quickly started to learn a lot from him. He helped me with cybersecurity and networking,” Kabuika said.
This teacher gave him a “flame to start learning.”
“That’s what I’m trying to do,” Kabuika explained, regarding his IT Learning Program. “I’m not trying to give them [participants] fire or the sun. I’m just trying to ignite a flame.”
In his fourth week running the program, there are sixteen participants, which is four over his projected attendance.
“I was not expecting that,” Kabuika said. “I thought I would have five people, or two people.”
To solve the problems posed by over-enrollment, Kabuika is considering shortening the duration the program to teach more students.
Kabuika has one quandary that many Bowdoin students can relate to: an obsession with the Netflix show Black Mirror.
“The show is so good that I want to keep watching, but I don’t have time. I’m suffering from that,” Kabuika said.