Corning’s Robin Hood of robotics


Eric Biribuze connects resources to transform children’s lives through STEM.

Eric Biribuze felt a mix of emotions when he was named Black Engineer of the Year in 2018 by the Career Communications Group which honors people of color working in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Humility, pride, gratitude...but most of all, Eric felt a need to act; a desire to do something with this new notoriety.

The recognition captured attention in East Africa, where friends, family, and media were buzzing about this Burundi-born engineer who is now Corning’s Automotive Glass Solutions global sales director.     

“Overnight, people made me feel like a different person,” Eric says. “My award made me realize that I will forever have a big responsibility to pave the way for others.”

He knew well the need. 

After high school in Burundi, Eric earned a prestigious scholarship to attend college in China, becoming the first in his family to study abroad. He earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering and a master’s in management information systems before receiving a full scholarship to attend the MBA program at Appalachian State University in North Carolina. There, Eric says, he became a “global citizen” with lived experience now on three continents.

Since beginning his 25-year Corning career as an international credit analyst, he’s risen through the company and grown his reputation as a leader in diversity and inclusion, mentoring, and advocacy. 

Eric Biribuze wants to ensure every child has opportunities to explore STEM.

Eric had long been a supporter of STEM education, but he’d also seen a wealth of resources not make their way to children in need. The 2018 award and the connections it fostered gave him an idea.

Wanting to fuel socioeconomic transformation in his home continent of Africa – as well as in his new home in the United States – he realized he could help channel already-available resources to underserved youth, linking them to STEM and leadership training. 

The question was how.

He turned to Andrea Lynch, president of the Corning Incorporated Foundation, the company’s philanthropic organization. Andrea advised him on establishing a non-profit organization to connect funders with underserved communities. Inspired, Eric created the Science Technology Entrepreneurship Leadership Academy (STELA), Inc. in 2019.

We aim to bridge the gap between young people who want to study and people who are prepared to invest in making their ambitions a reality
Eric Biribuze

Eric sees himself as a “Robin Hood” who identifies available resources and creates partnerships to deliver on his goals. When Eric sees potential for collaboration among community, business, education, and government partners, he dons his feathered cap and gets to work.

For his first project, Eric turned to Corning Robotics, an established group of employee volunteers who coach FIRST Robotics teams in areas where the company operates. Using specially designed FIRST LEGO kits, Corning coaches guide children through a hands-on, global robotics curriculum meant to develop critical thinking, coding, and design skills in STEM.

STELA team members construct a robot from LEGOs at an after-school program.

In 2019, Eric had joined a group of Corning scientists who spent eight days in Kigali, promoting STEM skills among students at the University of Rwanda. That visit created connections for the development of a robotics program in Rwanda. Through Eric and STELA, Corning Robotics purchased FIRST kits for children in Rwanda and Corning colleagues trained coaches there via web meetings. STELA has developed 10 teams in Rwanda and will launch a robotics team in Burundi this year.

Eric is eager to develop potential in East Africa, and not solely due to his personal ties to the region. Rwanda has strengthened both its government and economy in last 25 years, creating a hub for technology and business growth on the continent. On recent visits, Eric was wowed by the sheer number of young developers he met in Burundi.

“There is this energy, this desire to absorb as much as possible – proof that a bright future is on the horizon in terms of engineering,” Eric says. But to get there, STEM education and leadership development must flourish. “Governments and the private sector will need to contribute to infrastructure development, creating opportunities for people with engineering skills to grow and prosper," he says. 

In the U.S., Eric and Corning colleagues are now working with a range of organizations and community groups, including Corning Community College, the Economic Opportunity Program in Elmira, New York, a local church, and Parent Teacher Associations, to develop more FIRST teams and STELA leadership training. 

Corning’s unique culture and its emphasis on contributing to the communities where it operates gave Eric a springboard to develop his passion project. Eric wants to expand STELA on both continents and eventually build a staff and a pipeline of coaches.

“From the encouragement of executive leaders to the collaboration with the Corning Foundation and the colleagues who share in the mission, we have the resources to make a difference for children and their communities,” he says. “The resources are out there – let's go get them.”


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