Submitted by Bates Technical College

Arma Carneh was a teenager when civil war erupted in his native country of Liberia. Forced to become a child soldier for survival, he escaped to the U. S. at age 18, where he found employment in the medical field. Carneh’s struggles didn’t end.

At age 20, he developed stage four liver cancer and underwent 30 rounds of chemotherapy to beat the disease. Struggling with numerous setbacks and hard luck, he rebounded and found the Diesel and Heavy Equipment program at Bates Technical College.

“When I beat cancer, I was lost and depressed,” wrote Carneh in an essay. “I was hopeless and became homeless. I remembered the peace I felt fixing cars with my cousin, so that is why I chose to enroll in the diesel program at Bates.”

At Bates, Carneh’s academic instructor Dr. Amy Robertson-Bullen, became his most important influence. “She saw in me what I did not see in myself. She helped me confront and overcome the limiting beliefs that I had developed, which kept me from succeeding. She continuously encouraged me to not sell myself short-to keep seeking greatness,” he wrote.

Since enrolling at Bates five quarters ago, Carneh has found a safe living space, risen to top student status, and currently has a paid internship. Following graduation, Carneh will pursue a Bachelor of Applied Science in diesel technology.

His perseverance recently earned him the Transforming Lives Award from the Washington State Association of College Trustees, which honors students and graduates whose lives have been transformed while pursuing higher education at a state community or technical college.

In her nomination form, Dr. Robertson-Bullen wrote, “Arma attributes his current successes to his hard work, positive attitude, resiliency, and the support he received at Bates.”

Carneh will receive a $500 award and serve as a keynote speaker at a conference in Olympia on Monday, Jan. 21.

To learn more about the Transforming Lives award, go to  To learn more about Bates Technical College, go to

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