Serena Kamdem: Leading and building the community “living room” | Inside UNC Charlotte

Serena Kamdem: Leading and building the community “living room” |  Inside UNC Charlotte

Serena Bemmo Kamdem, born in Cameroon, moved to the US Virgin Islands when she was 7 years old.

The move was difficult and her new school suggested ESL classes to avoid delaying a grade. But his father, a middle school math teacher, created workbooks to help Kamdem and his three siblings learn English along with their native French. She remembers perfecting her English by watching PBS and was excited when an episode of “Arthur” mentioned her native country during a song about the 54 nations of Africa.

When Kamdem and her family migrated to Charlotte for better educational opportunities, she experienced culture shock acclimating to Ardrey Kell High School as a sophomore. She was looking for opportunities to make connections. By joining the group, she discovered her community and the credit of being head of the flute and woodwind section for developing her leadership skills.

Kamdem’s plan was to move away for college, but Covid made living at home and commuting to Charlotte the right choice. She found her first community in the university honors program.

“I felt a little isolated because of the disconnection from the pandemic. It was hard for me to fit in, but I got into the Honors College, where we all embody the same spirit. The counselors welcomed and hugged us; I was able to learn some aspects of being a student and they actively made sure we were always connected,” Kamdem said.

“During an introductory course, we learned about the city of Charlotte and the issues facing the community. It was the first time I experienced applied learning. The Honors College found a way for us to be part of the community instead of just learning about it. I embraced the community and realized I had a voice to shape and change what came next,” Kamdem said.

As a freshman, Kamdem took the bus and light rail to campus, spending hours at the Popp Martin Student Union before and after classes. She applied for a job at the end of her freshman year, but suffered from imposter syndrome.

“I didn’t feel qualified and wanted to cancel, but I decided to see what happened. I said a prayer and answered questions. It was one of the first times I was reminded that it is important to seize every opportunity and not underestimate yourself until you reach the end. Even if you fail, the process is more important than the end product. My dad taught me this when I was younger, but it didn’t really work. It’s scary to jump out and do something new, but I’ve learned that I have to seize the opportunity,” Kamdem said.

She got the job and spent three years working as a building manager at the union and at Cone University Center.

“The union was my home on campus, and as an employee, I wanted to make that same space welcoming to the next commuter who feels isolated,” Kamdem said. “I love the people I met. Hearing the stories and history of Bonnie Cone, Demond Martin, and Karen Popp inspires me to work harder and embody that same energy to help the community. Popp and Martin still do this; the model of the student union as the heart of the campus – the lounge – everyone goes there. I want to help others feel the same energy, heart and liveliness.

Kamdem overcame lingering feelings of doubt, and through her faith, she sought out more experiences on campus. During her sophomore year, Kamdem became an Honors College Ambassador and served as a Senior Ambassador as a senior.

Planning to attend law school, she joined the Pre-Law Society and served as a student law student in the Student Government Association. During her third year, Kamden helped found the Black Law Society and served as its president during her senior year.

Serena Kamden with multiple Niner 9 nomineesFor Niner Nation Homecoming Week 2023, Kamdem was encouraged to apply for the Niner 9.

“I don’t always put myself out there, but in my final year I decided to be the model and take advantage of any opportunity that presented itself, as long as it wasn’t outside of my values. The other eight nominees were extraordinary, they made many wonderful contributions to campus and I learned from them,” Kamdem said.

In January 2024, for the university’s MLK commemoration, Kamden interviewed former Mayor Harvey Gantt before a standing-room-only audience in McKnight Hall.

“Dr. Jordan Boyd, one of my Honors College mentors, recommended me, and my first reaction was that I could think of three other students who would be perfect for this role,” Kamden said.

“UNC Charlotte was my safety school, but it became my safety net because I really feel like there was no other place where I could have thrived the way I did ” Kamden said. “UNC Charlotte gave me the opportunity to grow and excel, to discover who I am, what I want to do and how to do it. Everyone is a leader, even if they don’t have a title. It’s not the recognition that matters, you can do it yourself and discover your “why”.

Kamdem’s four years at Charlotte exemplified consistent leadership, scholarship and service, for which she was honored as the 2024 recipient of the Bonnie E. Cone Leadership Award.

This May, Kamdem will graduate cum laude, double majoring in political science and criminal justice with a minor in legal studies. Then we’re off to Las Vegas for a pre-law scholarship and studying for the LSAT before applying to law schools.

She does so with greater confidence because she will be able to explore her next community and settle into her next school as well.