Growing up, all Cody Myers ’17 knew was a farm. Living in Lenoir City, Tenn., where an internet connection was seen as a luxury, Myers imagined his future would include taking over the family farm. That is until the recession hit, and his family was forced to sell its land. Little did he know, an even brighter future was ahead.
Myers began working in construction when he was just 14 years old. What started as a way to help pay the bills at home led to an opportunity that would change his life. While installing floors at a friend’s house, the owner told Myers about Berea College, the place that would grant him a tuition-free education he never would have thought possible.
“I never thought of college as an option, just because it’s so unaffordable. So, I applied and eventually got in and thought, ‘Sweet,’ and everything changed from there.”
At Berea, Myers remembers facing a new set of challenges, including learning how to type on a computer and exploring his career-path options.
“My parents still don’t have internet out of their house to this day because no one runs internet lines out there, so I received my first computer through the Edge Program at Berea,” he said. “And I always joke with other people on my team because I will be typing really fast and have to look off screen to look at my keyboard and type the number seven.”
Myers decided to take free online classes to learn how to type, which in turn allowed him to fall in love with computer science. As a first-year student, he was placed in a robotics class, where he earned a 98 as his final grade and an offer to become a Computer Science teaching assistant.
“I would say I felt intimidated when I first started computer science because I felt like I was so far behind everyone else,” he recalls. “My freshman year I had to ask my professors to simplify all this information that people who grew up with computers knew.”
His passion for computer science also led him to become one of the first student programmers on the student software development team. The labor program in computer science is led by associate professor Dr. Scott Heggen and is intended to immerse students in the field by identifying software needs for the College and creating technical solutions for those needs.
For Myers, his role as a student programmer was fundamental in his college education, and it is something he credits as the reason he landed a job at Red Hat, an IBM subsidiary software company based in Raleigh, N.C. Berea’s software development team “gave me basically some real-world experience about how to develop websites, what it’s like to run a website in production, what it’s like to have customers that are using your website,” Myers said.
In fact, the syllabus repository system the College is currently using was created by Myers while he worked for BereaCorps, a job program for recent graduates. To this day, he is thankful to Berea College for all the life-changing opportunities and people he met.
“I think for a lot of kids, especially kids who come from lower economic standing, the idea of going into debt is just so terrifying, because a lot of us probably watched our parents go through debt and not be able to get out of it,” Myers said.
“I think people have a misconception that free equals cheap. And this—our education—is not cheap, by any means. We’re just lucky to have it [covered] because of Berea’s endowment and generous donors,” he continued.
Myers also credits his education at Berea for providing a community among the student programmers as well as professional opportunities he would not have been able to afford otherwise. These include traveling abroad to Sweden to present a paper on teaching software to students through the software development team and other internship opportunities.
Looking back on his experience, Myers thinks of Berea College with real appreciation. He recalls his greatest success was graduating debt-free, which now allows him to be a homeowner before turning 30 and to move further into his career path to become a senior software engineer.
Now living in Durham, N.C., Myers’ goal is to find more significant ways to give back to his alma mater, starting with sharing Red Hat internship opportunities for Berea College students.
“Berea changed my life, and I think it’s going to change a lot of people’s lives,” he said. “You go through an experience that people talk about being life changing in the moment, but you never really realize how life changing it is. And I don’t think any of the things I own or my career would have been possible without going to Berea first.
“I think once you are able to achieve a degree at Berea, you get this feeling that you can just do anything,” Myers continued. “Like, you’ve accomplished this really hard thing, and you were able to succeed. And then that gives you the confidence to know that you can do that in the real world.”
Berea Alumna Explores Debt
Disparity along Race Lines
Berea alumnus Jonathan C.W. Davis ’12, a senior research associate at The Education Trust, co-authored an article about the disparity in student debt between Black and white borrowers.