1987: Left Burundi for China
1992: Graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering
1995: Earned a master’s degree with a concentration in Mangement Information Systems (MIS)
1997: Received an MBA for the Walker College of Business at Appalachian State University —
Eric joined Corning in Hickory, N.C.
2014: Moved to a product line management leadership position with Gorilla Glass for Automotive
2018: Received a 2018 Black Engineer of the Year Award for Professional Achievement in the Industry category
Strong academics and immense curiosity
Eric Biribuze was born in Burundi, a former colony of Belgium, where French is the official language of education. By the time Eric completed his elementary school, he was already fluent in 3 languages, Kirundi, his native language, Swahili, a regional language (also spoken in parts of Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda) and French. Eric has always been an excellent student, and as a matter of fact he was ranked second overall in the national exam results for all elementary students, a competitive result with only 10% pass rate.
“Eric attended College Notre Dame de Gitega in the secondary school, where he continued to excel, especially in math and science. As he entered high school, he was placed in the prestigious and competitive field of math and physics, Scientific A, where he consistently ranked in the top 3 in his class, graduating in 1987 with a high school diploma. In addition to being a good student in math and science, Eric was always curious and fascinated about knowing the world, and being part of it. “At 19, I knew and could recite every country in the world, its capital and its leader; and I wanted to see each one of them” says Eric. At the end of his high school studies, and before entering college, Eric’s prolific knowledge of the world earned him a spot in the finals of the national competition “Inter-scolaire”, where he proudly represented his high school, College Notre Dame of more than 500 students.
Embracing each challenge as an opportunity
In China, Eric attended the Beijing Languages Institute, to learn Chinese while getting prepped for College. He had to learn Chinese in English, a language he barely knew, and ended up learning both Chinese and English (a challenge he later turned into an opportunity to study in the US). He then embarked on a 7-year college education learning all the subjects in Chinese, a language he just learned in 9 months. Eric attended the Northeastern University, in the city of Shenyang and Liaoning province, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering in 1992. He further pursued and earned a master’s degree in 1995, with a concentration in Management Information Systems (MIS).
Once again, academics and curiosity drove Eric to seek further education seeking more opportunities in a different country, and this time in the US. He was offered a full academic scholarship to attend the MBA program at Appalachian State University. “At Appalachian, I learned to become a global citizen, having a keen awareness and understanding of cultures of the southern and eastern hemisphere, I was now learning and embracing a whole new culture in the western hemisphere” remarked Eric. Today, he speaks 5 languages fluently, he also speaks Kirundi, Swahili, and French.
“At Appalachian, I learned to become a global citizen, having a keen awareness and understanding of cultures of the southern and eastern hemisphere, I was now learning and embracing a whole new culture in the western hemisphere,” he said. Today, he speaks five languages fluently.
Eric received an MBA from the Walker College of Business at Appalachian State University in 1997. At Appalachian, he was the President of the International Friendship Association and was named in the 1997 Edition of Who’s Who in American Universities and Colleges. Eric was also inducted in the Beta Gamma Sigma Society, the highest recognition of excellence in business education and leadership. Eric was named to the Appalachian State University MBA Advisory Board in 2003, where he was instrumental in the expansion programs, helping student’s recruitment by Corporate America and bringing new international students to Appalachian.
As he’s moved through his professional career, Eric has also found time to lecture and speak at Appalachian and serving as a mentor to his students. In 2010, Eric arranged for the Corning Cable Systems CEO to be a speaker at the esteem Appalachian Business CEO Lectures Series, paving the way for Corning recruitment of Appalachian students.
Passionate to solve the toughest problems
Eric joined Corning in 1997 in Hickory, NC. “When I learned the long history of Corning innovations, using its world leading position in materials science to solve tough problems and transform people’s lives, I knew I have found home” says Biribuze “Where I am still as passionate as I was more than 20 years ago”. Eric’s journey with Corning has been very successful one. Starting off as an International Credit Analysts, Eric quickly moved within Corning through multiple roles of increasing responsibilities, to include Finance, Manufacturing, Product Line Management, Strategy and New Business Development based in different US locations as well as Mexico with global responsibilities, while delivering great results while taking on more challenges.
One of Eric’s biggest contributions at Corning was to coordinate the successful launch of EDGE product solution enabling Corning to expand its leadership position in the Data Center market and the adoption of the solutions by global customers in the banking and technology industries as well key government agencies. His passion led him to embark on a new path to tackle another challenge, this time south of the of the border in one of the Corning largest manufacturing facility to follow his most recently launched product to Mexico to help drive it to flawless manufacturing. This EDGE product solution has continued to evolve generating more than a $1B in revenue since its launch in 2009.
Eric has made great strides to establish himself as a leader, team player and has demonstrated a willingness to embrace new opportunities throughout his diverse career at Corning. In 2014, Eric left the Optical Communications business for a product line management leadership position to develop a new business for Corning. It might just be his biggest challenge yet. “I seek opportunities that involve challenges, even today,” says Eric Biribuze. “And if you embrace the challenges by focusing on performing the best you know how and learning everything you can from your experiences, everything is possible”
Eric is the founding member of the Corning Black Employees Network (CBEN) and serves as its inaugural Chair. Eric is a Champion of Diversity and Inclusion. He is dedicated and has a proven track record of recruiting, retaining and developing employees from diverse backgrounds. He consistently demonstrates a commitment to the growth and development of others through mentorship and advocacy.
Winning the 2018 Black Engineer of the Year Award for Professional Achievement
At almost 50 years old, Eric Biribuze received high honors on February 10th, the 2018 Black Engineer of the Year Award for Professional Achievement at a STEM conference in Washington, D.C. Eric was recognized for his successful 20 years of contributions and accomplishments at Corning. He was introduced at the ceremony by Marty Curran, executive vice president and Corning innovation officer. “He’s a collaborative Corning leader in both the Communications and Auto Sectors, delivering strong results in diverse functions and cultures, including teams in the United States, Mexico and China,” Marty said. “He’s linked the connections between research, development, manufacturing and commercial teams – creating new, exciting and life-changing innovations. And – the thing I love most about Eric is his belief that you and your organization can always improve, that we will win and that you do it by being a great teammate.”
Eric who was the Business Operations Director for Glazing in the Automotive Glass Solutions, when got the award, stated that growing up in Burundi and attending college in China on a merit-based STEM scholarship,” the key to his success was in turning each challenge into an opportunity”. He indicated that “my life journey has been a stream of challenges that became golden opportunities.” Eric finally shared with the gala attendees of more than 1,500 “I came to this great country to further my education and landed a career with Corning. My passion is to make a positive impact, and, for 20 years, it has been a privilege to contribute to Corning’s innovative journey, while solving some of the world’s toughest problems and helping transform people’s lives.”
Helping one person at a time
When Eric joined Corning in 1997, his father, whom he looked up to as a role model, and who was very proud for Eric’s stellar achievements, died after a short illness, leaving his homemaker mom and siblings, without a breadwinner. Eric become the breadwinner, using a portion of his salary to take care of his family back home, which he continues to do to this day. Since then, Eric has put his 2 young siblings through college.
When the AIDS epidemic decimated people in his native Burundi, leaving many orphans without no one to care for them, Eric and a group of fellow Burundians in the diaspora decided to sponsor the education of a select number of those orphans. “Our action was pretty much a no brainer. We mentored 50 kids and paid full 4-year scholarship to attend college and graduated everyone but two. Upon graduation, we helped them find jobs and each becoming a “householder leader” says Biribuze
In 2019, Eric was part of a group of Corning Inc. scientists, who spent eight days in Kigali, Rwanda, and helped to promote skills and values in STEM to young people at the University of Rwanda. “The experience was really powerful”, Eric said .”When I saw African students engaging with my other fellow colleagues, it reminded me of when I was in China 30 years earlier. There’s this energy; this belief that the future’s going to be better; the desire to absorb as much as possible,” he said. “I think I see the same parallels between 30 years ago with China, and today where Africa is in terms of youth” Eric concluded that he wanted to be part of the transformation of what he believes is abound to happen in Africa.
Leveraging STEM to build a ‘STELA’ future
Inspired by his own “unlikely” journey from an underprivileged background in Burundi, Africa to achieving impressive honors in corporate America, Eric has been determined to make a positive impact in other people’s lives, especially those underserved communities. “The key question that kept eating at me was “what I should do to give back to our motherland Africa, with all the blessings I have, living and working in our homeland of USA?” Eric has been pondering. Eric who is grateful for a successful life journey from humble beginnings, wholeheartedly believes that he has a responsibility to pay it forward, “my award has made me realize that I will forever have a big responsibility to pave the way for others, by broadly sharing my story and more importantly engaging myself and others in the development and the advancement of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) in the underserved communities of our motherland continent of Africa and in our homeland of USA”
STELA, which stands for Science Technology Entrepreneurship Leadership Academy, was founded as an act of deep gratitude and firm commitment for making impact. STELA, a 501(c)(3) organization, has the mission to deploy world-class programs in STEM and leadership to the youth in underserved communities in the United States and Africa, and deliver capacity building for socio-economic transformation.