Four years ago, freshman Hannah Parker (18C) arrived at Berry scared and unsure of herself. Fast-forward to today, and Hannah is headed to Wake Forest University to pursue a master’s degree in health and exercise science. She has conducted research on diabetes with Berry Assistant Professor David Elmer and earned the 2018 Martha Berry Outstanding Undergraduate Award, which is the highest honor a student can receive in recognition of exemplary achievement that fulfills Berry’s mission. Hannah is the perfect example of a student who embodies the tenacious and hard-working spirit that would make our founder proud, even if her major didn’t exist in Martha Berry’s day. As an exercise science student, Hannah worked alongside kinesiology faculty and staff in the Stephen J. Cage Athletic and Recreation Center in an effort to help students achieve their health goals. From her student work environment to her Viking soccer team family, Hannah is thankful for the meaningful community at Berry.
Alexandria Skinner, a 2018 grad, has a passion for STEM education. Her Berry College job as a peer tutor and teaching assistant, as well as her work with the Berry College Elementary and Middle School Girl Scout troop solidified her love of teaching, particularly for teaching science.
Alexandria, a physics major and double math and music minor, says her undergraduate experience was shaped by the teaching of Assistant Professor of Physics Shawn Hilbert, who she worked for as a research assistant.
“[Dr. Hilbert’s] high expectations for me, in and out of the classroom, pushed me to be the best student (and person) that I could,” she said. “Dr. Hilbert has given me the opportunity to become a published physicist, to present my research, both here at Berry and at national physics conferences, and demonstrate my full potential within the department.” Alexandria has had a paper published in the American Journal of Physics, two more are in the publication process and she was recently honored with the Lawrence E. McAllister Physics Award.
Now she turns her attention toward shaping young minds. Alexandria recently accepted a job to teach physical science and earth science to middle schoolers in Arizona.
Animal science major Nabilah Curtis (19c) uses every opportunity she can to chase her dream of becoming a veterinarian. Participating in the vet shadowing program with Clinical Assistant Professor and College Veterinarian Kirstin Ruffner gave her the opportunity to gain firsthand experience working with large animals on campus. “I think the shadowing program has definitely opened my eyes a bit more to large animal medicine. I never thought about being a cow, sheep, or horse vet, but while watching Dr. Ruffner work, I started to be able to see myself in that same position.” Nabilah hopes to attend vet school after Berry and work with both small and large animals.
In a few months, Kas Ordaz (class of 2017) hopes to teach in Japan – fulfilling her desire to explore new cultures. During her time at Berry, the anthropology and sociology major explored her passion by working on a number of research projects that focused on issues such as multiculturalism, achievement gaps and identity. Eventually, she shaped her research around her work with the Berry English as a Second Language program sponsored by the Evans School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences. This allowed her to better understand the motivation behind a person’s desire to learn a new language and helped her develop a deeper love for teaching English.
During her junior year, Kas was awarded the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship as well as a Phi Kappa Phi study abroad grant to study in Guatemala. Her desire to travel the world and immerse herself in other cultures was partially influenced by her education professor and mentor, Dr. Eliana Hirano. “Dr. Hirano cultivated in me the desire to go abroad and teach English – with her fascinating travel stories – and was always available for guidance in that path,” Kas said.
Now, Kas has been accepted as a short-list candidate and looks forward to working in Japan for at least a year with the highly competitive and selective Japanese Exchange and Teaching program as an assistant language teacher. After her time abroad, Kas plans to pursue research opportunities related to multicultural education in graduate school.
Sarah Cooper (19c) was looking for a college where she could ride on a competitive equestrian team while working as a paid researcher in a science lab. Only one college fit her criteria – Berry!
Choosing Berry has helped Sarah win the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship this year and compete nationally for the college equestrian team.
“I love it here so much. I’m a student-athlete and a fulltime student, and I work about 16 hours doing research in the chemistry department. In most other schools you could only be an athlete or have a job,” she said.
Berry is known for its academic rigor, but also for its small class and lab sizes. Sarah wants everyone to know Berry is the reason for her success. The attention from professors – not overworked graduate students typical of large universities – allows her to excel and thrive.
“Classes are competitive, but it’s not cutthroat. Students work together all the time. It’s very team oriented at Berry,” Sarah noted.
Earning the Goldwater Scholarship allows Sarah, a rising senior, to pursue a spot at one of the top 10 graduate programs in the country in her quest to earn a Ph.D. and eventually work in pharmaceutical research and development. The Goldwater is one of the most prestigious scholarships in the natural sciences, engineering and mathematics, recognizing students who excel in undergraduate research with faculty. Sarah joins winners from Cal Tech, Stanford, Harvard, MIT, Duke and Princeton among others.
Berry science professors teach three classes every semester, giving them time to mentor students outside of class. For Sarah, that mentor is Associate Professor of Biochemistry Dominic Qualley.
“Pretty much anybody who is motivated here can do research,” Dr. Qualley said, adding that the school also provides support for faculty and students wishing to travel to conferences to present their findings.
“At a large university, professors won’t give you the time of day. They focus on the grad students,” Sarah said. “The hours that the professors at Berry spend with students provide us with valuable firsthand instruction.”
And when Sarah needs a break from all that research and studying, she reaps the benefit of being able to board her horse, Dinky, on the world’s largest campus.
“I can just drive up to mountain campus and tell her how my test went,” she said laughing.
During her time at Berry as a political science student and Bonner scholar, Jasmine Rangel (17C) got interested in public policy. Now, she works as an associate at the New Jersey Bonner AmeriCorps Program at the Bonner Foundation, a national service oriented organization. She manages the programs of a 55-member AmeriCorps grant and supports various nonprofits in New Jersey. She attributes her public speaking, writing and critical-thinking skills to the Government and International Studies Department at Berry. “The supportive community at Berry composed of advisors, professors and work supervisors instilled a sense of confidence in me and my abilities to pursue impactful community-centered work,” Jasmine said. In the future, she hopes to become a city planner.
Story by student social media assistant Saif Sarfani.