Goodwill helps Kollie Massaquoi pursue a career in information technology
Kollie Massaquoi, 34, lives in New Hope, Minnesota, a community of nearly 21,000 people located 5,500 miles from his native Monrovia, the capital of Liberia and home to 1 million residents. New Hope is aptly named for Kollie when you consider that his childhood was framed by two civil wars.
The first war, one of the bloodiest in the history of Africa, began in 1989 when Kollie was 9 years old. That war lasted seven years and took the lives of 200,000 people. A million Liberians fled their homes, emptying entire villages. Child soldiers were deployed by both sides in the conflict. That terrifying phenomenon continued into the second civil war. Historians mark the use of child soldiers in Liberia as perhaps the most extreme example in the 21st century.
The second war began just three years after the first ended. That war, characterized by cannibalism, human sacrifice and forcible drug addiction, ended in 2003 with the resignation of President Charles Taylor, who was later charged by a court in Sierra Leone with 11 war crimes, ranging from acts of terrorism to murder to enslavement. Taylor was convicted on all counts and is serving a 50-year term in a prison in England.
“That was a very scary time for me and my family,” Kollie said. “My mother lost one brother and one sister in the war. My father lost two brothers and one sister. One of my uncles was killed right in front of me. We walked from Monrovia to my grandfather’s village in the jungle to escape the fighting. That would be like walking from Minnesota to New Jersey. The pressure from the war caused a lot of people to go crazy. I still see it everyday in my head.”
Kollie escaped the chaos and violence by immigrating to the United States in 2000. “I remember leaving Africa on that plane as one of the happiest moments of my life,” he said. “So many doors would now be open to me. I always remind myself where I grew up and try to make a positive out of it.”
One door Kollie opened in his new country was enrolling in the Network Technology and Security program at Inver Hills Community College. He is on track to graduate with an A.A.S. degree in fall 2016. He never saw a computer until he came to the U.S.
“I looked around at different colleges after I earned my GED,” Kollie said. “I read positive reviews about Inver. I decided to drive over to the college and I liked the campus. After I graduate, I want to transfer to the University of Minnesota and earn a bachelor’s degree in programming or software development. I’m not sure yet which field I’ll choose for my career.”
Making the transition to college was made a lot easier through his participation in the Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota College and Career Navigation Services. A collaborative effort with Inver Hills and Dakota County Technical College and other MnSCU colleges, College and Career Navigation Services is a free, individualized and flexible program tailored to the specific needs of the participants. The career pathways created by the program connect educational programs for job seekers with integrated work experience and on-the-job training with potential employers. Julia Miller serves as Kollie’s career navigator.
“Julia helped me in so many ways,” said Kollie, who holds two jobs while going to college, one as a Securitas security guard at the Calhoun Beach Club and one as a front desk assistant at CommonBond. “College and Career Navigation Services has come through when I needed help with transportation, clothing, food, employment and other resources.”
“Kollie shows tremendous professionalism—and that’s what got him into the workforce,” Julia said. “He has a positive, welcoming demeanor and he knows when to reach out when he needs assistance looking for opportunities for growth.”
Julia Miller reported that her role as a college and career navigator has three main components. She assists participants with college navigation, which encompasses basically anything related to the higher education experience at Inver Hills, including programs, enrollment, financial aid, campus visits, student organizations and student services as well as introductions to faculty and staff.
She also makes sure participants take advantage of the plentiful resources offered through Goodwill-Easter Seals. “As a college and career navigator, I work to get our participants connected with the resources that will eliminate barriers and allow them to focus on school and searching for a job,” Miller said. “Our aim is to achieve a balance between academics, career advancement and family obligations. Obstacles are typically linked to transportation, child care and housing.”
The third component, career development, involves helping participants forge strong resumes and job search techniques in concert with enhancing their professional image. Mock and informational interviews are integral to the process. “I also serve as a reference for prospective employers,” Miller said. “Participants realize early on that they need to establish a rapport with me. Strengthening our relationship helps give them the life and people skills they need to succeed in their future careers.”
In August 2015, Kollie took part in a roundtable discussion at a Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota event celebrating the reauthorization of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Also present at the event, which took place at Goodwill’s auto and construction training center in St. Paul, were U.S. Senator Al Franken, U.S. Senator Tom Harkin from Iowa, MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone, Goodwill-Easter Seals President and CEO Michael Wirth-Davis, and Inver Hills and DCTC President Tim Wynes. The event showcased Goodwill’s successful and innovative partnerships with community and technical colleges.
“Kollie talked about his experiences as a nontraditional student and his participation in the Career Navigator program,” Julia said. “He also talked about the Ebola virus outbreak that recently struck West Africa, including his homeland, Liberia. Kollie lost several family members to the disease.” The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that Liberia had nearly 10,700 cases of Ebola with more than 4,800 deaths during the outbreak. WHO declared Liberia Ebola-free in September 2015.
Driven by his desire to help provide for family members in Liberia, Kollie continues to work long hours while excelling at his college coursework. “I’m a good student,” he said. “I always sit in the front of the class so I can stay focused and hear everything the instructor has to say.”
About Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota
Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota works to build strong families and communities. The mission of Goodwill-Easter Seals is to assist people with barriers to education, employment and independence in achieving their goals. Goodwill-Easter Seals prepares people for work. Eighty-five percent of every dollar donated to support the Goodwill-Easter Seals mission goes directly toward helping people in Minnesota train for and find employment. For more information, visit: Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota.
To learn more about Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota College and Career Navigation Services Inver Hills, contact:
Julia Miller, M.A.
College and Career Navigator
Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota
To learn more about Information Technology Careers programs at Inver Hills, contact: