Arse Tufa (pronounced “Ar-say”) graduated in December a semester early. By mixing online courses with his in-person classes at Union, he’s completing his degree after just seven semesters despite switching majors, playing on the soccer team and working full time.
The soft-spoken computer science major arrived in the United States from Ethiopia in 2019 as a high school senior with a scholarship to attend Legacy Christian Academy in Andover, Minnesota. When it came time to apply to colleges, there was no doubt in his mind he was coming to Union. “We’re Seventh-day Adventists, and I just followed my family,” Tufa said. “My cousins (Korsso and Bona Tufa) studied here, so I came too.”
He started college as a biomedical science major with plans of becoming a physician. “Growing up, my dad always joked ‘you’re going to be a doctor,’” Tufa said. After a lifetime of hearing he’d be good at it, choosing medicine seemed like the natural path. But by the end of his freshmen year, he’d realized it wasn’t the right direction for him.
Tufa says he has always served as tech support for his family and enjoys problem-solving. When he was reevaluating his career path, he decided to explore his love for technology. “Old people don’t know how to use phones,” Tufa laughed. “Growing up, I was always having to help fix settings and help my parents and grandma when they couldn’t figure out how to do things. My dad told me I would be a good doctor, but my grandma always said I would be an engineer.” Now that he’s working as a software engineer, it seems grandma knew best.
Tufa also credits at least part of the decision to study computer science to Addis Bogale. The 2021 Union graduate and fellow Ethiopian has been a supportive mentor and example.
After switching majors, Tufa worked in Union’s Information Systems department as a full stack Web developer last year. That hands-on learning opened the door to a summer internship at Tyton Holdings, a venture capital company in Texas, which in turn led to a four month stint as a software engineer with Rolfson Oil, also based in Texas.
Since November, Tufa has worked full-time as a software engineer at Fiserv, a global financial technology provider with an office in Lincoln. His classes this semester worked out almost miraculously to allow him to start his career early. “I was lucky to arrange a schedule with all classes after 5 p.m. so I can work normal business hours,” he said.
Tufa plans to stay in Lincoln and continue working at Fiserv after graduation. “I’m learning a lot there,” he said. “It’s a very big team with more than 60 engineers. There’s a lot to learn and a lot of people to learn from.”
When he’s not coding, Tufa can often be found on the soccer field. He’s been on Union’s varsity team since his freshman year, though an injury early in the season limited his playing time this semester. “In Ethiopia, everyone is good at soccer, and I was the worst,” he said. “When I came to America, I got my confidence back and started playing again.”
When asked what advice he would give new students, the first thing that came to mind was to keep your ID card to yourself. “Freshmen don’t care how much they spend on their ID,” he laughed. “They think it’s like free money. They’re generous and will give their card to other people in the cafeteria. Then they realize their money is gone.”
He also says he wishes he’d learned not to procrastinate about homework a lot sooner. “At the last moment, everything is hard, but if you make time to do homework a long time before the due date, you have less stress. I wish I’d done that more often and stressed less.”
Finally, Tufa encourages first-years to find someone who listens. Pastor David Kabanje, Union’s chaplain (known affectionately as PK), has been an integral support in his college success. “When I go through stuff, I talk to PK,” he said. “I’m in his office all the time.”
“My advice to freshmen is to find someone,” he continued. “Talk to someone. There are a lot of Bible study groups here that will help you meet people who care about you. College is hard, and you need people to talk to.”