Skip to main content
image of Karalise Nikuze
Karalise Nikuze

Karalise Nikuze is starting college with a goal already in mind—help others, like the doctors who helped her when she was a young child in Tanzania.

Nikuze, of Knoxville, a freshman who aspires to a career in medicine, is part of the university’s incoming Class of 2022.

Nikuze was born in a refugee camp in Tanzania after her family had escaped genocide in Rwanda. Her mother passed away when she was two and her grandparents raised her.

“My grandparents didn’t have to take me in. They had eight other children they were taking care of and I had other extended family who I could have lived with. I am so grateful to both of them for everything they provided me to get me to this point,” she said.

They helped instill a hard work ethic as she and her cousins would get up very early to sweep the house and walk long distances to get water for the family before heading to school for the day. They also spoke of the importance of an education, as both did not attend college.

“They always say I have to get my education so that I can go make a difference for myself and for others while doing something that I love to do,” she said.

She was an academic standout in AP and honors courses at Fulton High School in Knoxville. As a pre-medicine student, she hopes to one day return to Africa as a doctor and help those in need.

“When I was four I got really sick. No one knew what was wrong with me. I couldn’t hold down any food. But the doctors in the refugee camp saved my life. My love for medicine comes from that,” she said.

Her choice of career also connects her to her mother, who served as a nurse in Rwanda.

After six years in Tanzania, her family immigrated to Roanoke, Virginia.

“Everything was different than we expected, and it was a big adjustment,” she said. “But we had people there to help us along the way. Programs to help us learn English, after-school programs to help us with our homework, and people who helped us become acclimated to life in the United States.”

When she was 13, her family moved to Knoxville. The move was hard for Nikuze as she was leaving friends and extended family who had helped her since she had arrived in Virginia.

“My freshman year I was really nervous and wasn’t very involved. But by my sophomore year, I realized I needed to dip my feet in to different activities and not be by myself,” she said.

During high school, Nikuze was the top player on the tennis team. She was active in the Key Club and National Honor Society and served as a translator for African families at Lonsdale Elementary School. She also worked as a cashier at Food City and a dietary aide at Shannondale senior citizens’ facility and just completed a summer internship as a social media and marketing intern with the Knoxville Convention Center through the Project Grad Hands on the Future Program.

When it came time to make a decision on where to attend college, Nikuze knew that UT was the perfect fit for her. Throughout high school, she had participated in a number of UT programs—including Me4UT, Project Grad, and overnight trips, that helped her feel excited and ready to be a part of the Volunteer family.

“When I was in high school, I was scared of the thought of college, but after all of the experiences I have had so far I know that I belong at UT and won’t feel alone,” she said.


Katherine Saxon (, 865-974-8365)