Collins Kandongwe ’23 is proof that where you start doesn’t always dictate where you finish. Growing up in Zambia, in the southern part of Africa, he dreamed of working with computers. There was only one problem: he didn’t have access to one. Instead, he read every book related to computers, math and science he could get his hands on. Access to computers in high school helped to fertilize his dreams. At Berea College, that dream began to take root.
The first one in his family to attend college, Kandongwe began his Berea journey in a labor position on the College livestock farm, a familiar setting. Back in Zambia, he lived with an aunt on her farm, tending crops of corn and other vegetables. On Berea’s farm, he helped tend to the animals, vaccinating the cows, moving them from one pasture to another or tagging the young calves shortly after they were born. Working there with people from diverse backgrounds taught him the importance of good communications skills, teamwork, compassion and hands-on experience—skills that would serve him well in the future.
During his sophomore year, he served as a student chaplain in the Willis D. Weatherford Jr. Campus Christian Center for his labor position. There, he helped other students find their faith community, serve the community or find their own spiritual path. Once again, he was in familiar territory, having been chairperson for Christian fellowship at his high school.
“From ninth grade to my senior year, I had always been involved in some form of spiritual activities on the campus,” Kandongwe said. “So that always gave me a sense of purpose. I really felt like I was making an impact in people’s lives and being able to guide them along their journeys.”
He said his time as a student chaplain taught him to be an effective listener and communicator, how to empathize with others and how to have a conversation with people who have different opinions.
Kandongwe took all those lessons with him as he searched for an internship as his junior year ended. Although the College’s Office of Internships and Career Development has a wealth of resources to assist students with internships, he found his internship through Glassdoor, a job search website that also posts internship opportunities, salaries and company reviews. He searched for one that aligned with his skills and interests, submitted applications and landed an internship with ServiceNow, a California-based company specializing in automating work processes to increase efficiency. When he finished his internship, the company offered him a job after graduation. The resources at Berea ensured he was prepared for that next chapter.
“Berea College played a crucial role in my journey,” Kandongwe said. “The career center provided valuable resources and guidance on résumé building and interview preparation. Additionally, the College’s emphasis on critical thinking and problem-solving skills equipped me with a well-rounded background that aided me in excelling during interviews.”
After graduating in May 2023—and celebrating with a leaping heel tap as he crossed the commencement stage—Kandongwe moved to San Diego and joined ServiceNow as an associate software engineer. He’s responsible for developing and maintaining core web components used on the firm’s Now platform, a cloud-based service offered by ServiceNow. He’s learning about the practical aspects of software development, such as coding standards, version control and collaborating with cross-functional teams. He said his current role is helping him build a strong foundation in software development while enhancing his technical skills, teamwork and problem-solving abilities, which are essential for his career growth and any leadership roles he may pursue. He’s also thinking about returning to school to earn a Ph.D. in human-centered computing. Having a well-rounded understanding of enterprise software will help him in that pursuit.
With so much transition occurring in his life, Kandongwe is reflective of those “soft skills” he learned at Berea and how they are helping him now.
“The transition has been both exciting and challenging,” Kandongwe admitted. “Adapting to a full-time work schedule, responsibilities of a professional role, adult life and living in a new place takes some adjustment. I’m learning to manage my time efficiently and balance work with personal life.”
He credits the rigorous academic and labor schedule of Berea College with giving him an advantage in the competitive employment landscape. Kandongwe said support from colleagues and mentors has been invaluable during this transition, and making friends through dance and music has helped with work-life balance.
For Kandongwe, the campus community and the levels of support available at Berea have also been invaluable in getting him this far along his journey and preparing him for the next steps.
“Berea College’s inclusive and supportive community instilled in me the importance of collaboration and empathy—skills that are crucial in any workplace,” Kandongwe said. “Additionally, the College’s commitment to academic excellence and experiential learning provided a solid foundation for my technical skills.”
Kandongwe said the support of donors and alumni was just as critical to building a solid foundation for his life and career.
“I’d like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Berea donors and alumni for their support,” he said. “Your contributions have a profound impact on students like me, providing opportunities for education and personal growth that shape our futures. I hope to pay it forward by continuing to excel in my career and making a positive difference in the world.”