Jallah Kollie balances work and family to earn his graduate degree
University College graduate student Jallah Kollie was cutting through Holmes Lounge when he ran into his Bon Appetit colleagues setting up a lunch buffet.
The friends gathered, shaking Kollie’s hand and offering hugs. They know Kollie will graduate Friday with a graduate degree in human resources management from University College at Washington University in St. Louis. And they know how hard he worked to get there.
“This man has the spirit and work ethic of a million men,” said Connie Johnson, supervisor of Bon Appetit, WashU’s food service provider. And then, turning to Kollie and gripping his hands, “We are all so proud of you.”
Kollie and his family came to America in 2012 from Liberia after his wife won a diversity visa. The State Department program awards 50,000 green cards to immigrants and their families from across the globe. Kollie’s wife, Kebeh, was randomly selected from a pool of 12.5 million hopefuls.
“When we won the lottery, it was amazing,” Kollie said. “I worked in our capital city where there are a lot of internet cafes. I went to one and checked the results. When I saw she had won, I was very excited. It was a real surprise.”
Originally, the family planned to settle in Indiana where his brother-in-law lived. But when he moved to St. Louis, the family decided to come here too. In Liberia, Kollie worked with the Civil Service Agency, which oversees all of the government’s human resources activities. Yet, despite his college degree and long work history, Kollie could not find a job in St. Louis.
“I was very frustrated,” Kollie said. “I knew it would not be quick to find a job, but I needed to take care of my family.”
Bon Appetit hired him as a porter to wipe down tables and take out trash at Washington University. He quickly advanced to cashier at the Danforth University Center (DUC). He liked his co-workers, supervisors and the campus, but he wanted to go back to school so he could return to the human resources field. He enrolled in University College, taking as many as nine credits a semester while working full time.
“Quite frankly, I don’t even know how I did it,” said Kollie, who recently transferred to the St. Louis Art Museum cafe where he serves as supervisor. “There would be nights I could not sleep. I had to be up writing papers. On many occasions, I left home as early as 6 a.m. to study for at least three hours at the DUC before starting work. Having no knowledge of what was going on, my little girl would give me a hard time because she needed my attention but I was always working.”
Kollie completed his degree in less than two years and has been selected to serve as the University College student marshal, an honor reserved for top student leaders. He is proud to lead his classmates into the Quadrangle and even prouder his family will be there to see it.
“As parents, this is all we have to give our kids to make them better in life,” said Kollie, who has three children here and an older daughter in Liberia. “I have told my kids, ‘Education is the best thing I can give you,’ I hope that having a father who likes learning will show them how much education matters.”
by Diane Toroian Keaggy