Alumnus Andres Hun Von Chong gives back to UMSL

by | Aug 10, 2020

The College of Business Administration graduate and software engineer is supporting students in need by donating funds to help cover tuition costs.
Andres Hun Von Chong

After graduating in May, Andres Hun Von Chong began a full-time position as a software engineer at Charter Communications and donated funds to help current UMSL students who are struggling financially. (Photo by August Jennewein)

When Andres Hun Von Chong purchased a plane ticket from his native Panama to St. Louis, it was a leap of faith.

He’d applied to graduate school at the University of Missouri–St. Louis but hadn’t yet been accepted.

When he received his official acceptance letter a few weeks later, it was only the first step. He still had to find a way to cover tuition costs. So he flew to St. Louis a month before the fall 2018 semester began – as soon as his visa allowed – and was waiting at the College of Business Administration office that Monday morning.

After meeting with Francesca Ferrari, the director of graduate business programs, Hun Von Chong reached out to department chairs. A graduate assistantship in the marketing department ensured that he would be able to attend college.

In May, Hun Von Chong earned his master’s degree in information systems. A month later, he joined Charter Communications as a software engineer. Now, in gratitude to the university that made his education possible, he’s giving back to other students in need by supporting scholarships.

He characterizes his donation as a thank-you – both to God and the university that provided him with career opportunities.

“I wanted to make a donation to help someone with their tuition,” he said. “They opened a scholarship specifically for people affected by COVID. The first donation was to that scholarship fund.

“When I met with Perry Drake, I asked him, ‘Do you know someone who really needs the help?’ He put me in touch with the business office that deals with people who are struggling. I told them to pick someone who is struggling financially. It’s not a whole semester, but it’s something.”

In a way, supporting current students mirrors the support Hun Von Chong received while attending UMSL. He credits Drake, an assistant teaching professor of marketing and marketing department co-chair; Janet Y. Murray, the E. Desmond Lee professor for developing women leaders and entrepreneurs in international business; Haim Mano, the former marketing department chair and associate professor; and Ferrari for helping him throughout graduate school.

“The reason why I’m here is all because of Francesca Ferrari,” he said. “Of course, she would say, ‘You still had to work hard.’ But everything that has happened to me in the past two years is because of her.”

Hun Von Chong’s path to a career he’s passionate about took a few unexpected twists.

Graduate school at UMSL was not his first time in the St. Louis area. He earned a bachelor’s in finance from Lindenwood University in 2017 and got a job in the accounting department of a bank. That’s when he discovered something surprising – he hated working in that field.

“When I was young, I imagined working in a suit at a bank,” he said. “But that life was not for me, not at all. A friend recommended a subscription coding course, and that’s how I got into computers.”

A career in coding had never been on his radar, but he began taking courses through the online learning platform Udemy, and his passion grew. After connecting with an UMSL recruiter at a career fair, Hun Von Chong decided to pursue a degree in the field.

He took advantage of the resources UMSL offered, such as his graduate assistantship. Among other duties, he assisted with organizing the Midwest Digital Marketing Conference.

As part of the Information Technology and Cybersecurity Club, Hun Von Chong joined a group of students to tour Centene’s offices and remained in contact with a software developer he met there. Eventually, that contact turned into an internship position.

He was completing another recent internship at Perficient, which was set to become a full-time position, when the coronavirus pandemic hit and his role was eliminated.

He had to find employment before his visa expired, or he would have to leave the U.S. He leaned on his faith for strength, praying that God would help him secure a new job before the deadline. He made a promise that if he found a new position, he would make a financial donation to UMSL students.

One of Hun Von Chong’s acquaintances heard about the situation and asked for his resume, which he forwarded to a friend who worked at Charter.

“That was in April,’” Hun Von Chong said. “The next week Charter reached out and I did an interview. Then I did a second interview, and they offered me a job two or three weeks before graduation. It worked out incredibly.”

As a software engineer at Charter, Hun Von Chong works mainly with Java and back-end development, though he occasionally tackles front-end projects.

He’s putting in extra hours to learn new techniques and grow his skills, but it’s worth it to build his future. He believes that one day nearly every job will involve coding and software development, and he hopes to be in a management position where he can support others and keep them happy in the workplace.

He advised college students to hone their interpersonal skills and take advantage of internship opportunities in order to build a resume that stands out. Above all, he explained, the key to success lies in pursuing one’s passion.

“First and foremost, you’ve got to do what you love,” he said. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter that you’re making a bunch of money if you’re not happy. When you do what you love, then everything comes super easy.”

Karen Holman

Karen Holman