From refugee to graduate: one unstoppable engineer’s journey

Posted: May 19, 2017

Myer Tuolee
For many graduating students, receiving their hard-earned degrees feels like it has been a long time in the making. But for one Buckeye engineer, the path to the podium has been a long journey—one delayed but not stopped by war, a refugee camp or his immigration to the United States.

Myer Tuolee, an electrical engineering major, was one semester shy of receiving his engineering degree when civil war broke out in his native country of Liberia. Very quickly, he went from being a graduating senior to living in a refugee camp in Ghana.

“The refugee commission, the UNSERO, was only responsible for relief—food, shelter, medication. They were not providing an education for us,” said Tuolee. “So I was in the camp without school for more than 10 years.”

In September 2009, he left the refugee camp behind and came to the United States to join his girlfriend and daughter. Tuolee got a job in a factory, where he made friends with engineers who encouraged him to go back to school.

“Education is important to live a better life, because education is a gateway for a lot of opportunities,” he said.

Returning to school brought new challenges for Tuolee, who was working full-time in order to support his family. He also had to transition from different learning conditions in Liberia to the American school system after spending years out of the classroom.

“Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world. The problem is that they have no good libraries and no updated textbooks,” said Tuolee. “It was like leaving from darkness and coming to the light. Here in the United States some of my professors are the authors of the textbooks they teach, so if there is a mistake in the textbook they can make the necessary corrections during lectures. But in Liberia, if there is a mistake in a textbook, nobody knows and you will be learning something that isn’t right.”

Being a Buckeye has exposed Tuolee to many different people and facets in the engineering industry. He said he learned a lot, not just from his professors, but also from visiting professionals. Tuolee was able to participate in a job shadow program where he was exposed to real-life facilities and gained a firsthand look at how things work.

Learning time management and working under deadlines, Tuolee even appreciates the strict deadlines set by his professors.

“It gives you a sense of responsibility to have a timeline,” he said. “I really appreciate what the professors do here, they give you good experience so when you go outside of school you take your job and time seriously.”

Although returning to school has not been easy, Tuolee encourages others to continue to learning and stay on top of research and new developments in their area.

“I am grateful for this country,” said Tuolee. “This country gave everybody freedom no matter their background, no matter where they came from, to do what they want to do, advance their potential and gain what they would like and live how they want to live.”


by Emily Lehmkuhl, College of Engineering student communications assistant