Andreea Teban ’19 wanted to get a liberal arts education and moved from Romania to Berea to fulfill her dreams. She heard about the liberal arts in a summer school and was drawn to the promise of holistic development that this form of higher education offered. At Berea, she majored in business administration with a minor in economics and took several classes in religion and German.
Toward the end of her academic tenure at Berea, she applied to the BereaCorps program. The grant-funded initiative provides recent Berea graduates the opportunity to work in staff positions at the College to gain professional experience. Positions are for one year but can be extended up to two years. The same way that Berea’s liberal arts ethos combines academic and personal exploration, BereaCorps integrates professional and personal development, inspired by Berea’s ideals of providing ongoing support to students.
“Like every graduating senior, I really struggled with what was going to happen after I graduated,” Teban said. “The fact that I was an international student also made it harder on my job application process. Learning about BereaCorps and how the program is structured, it just made sense that I would apply. I ended up working for the Labor Office as a training associate, working with a training specialist to help them create trainings related to soft-skill development that we could give to supervisors and teams in labor departments across the campus.”
The program helped Teban build relationships with other members of her BereaCorps cohort and her supervisors. She learned a lot about workplace dynamics and how important having a supportive work environment is to learning the skills needed to progress in one’s career.
Teban fondly remembers the mentor relationship she built with her supervisor Rosanna Napoleon ’13. “Rosanna was really great at keeping me accountable. We always set goals together,” she said. “And that’s the part of the program where you and your supervisor will sit down and set goals for yourself for that year and ensure you have everything you need to achieve those goals. [And] some of those goals could include applying to graduate school, getting certain certifications that would give you an edge up on your résumé—anything that would build you as a young professional.”
In addition to the compensation and employee benefits like health insurance and paid vacation and sick leave, every BereaCorps participant is allocated funds for activities that kickstart careers. This could mean covering the cost of attending a conference or graduate school application fees, GRE fees and study materials.
Teban chose to stay in Berea after her BereaCorps experience, with a deeper understanding of the mission of the institution that fostered her and a desire to be part of it. Currently the associate director of digital annual giving for Berea’s Alumni, Communications and Philanthropy division, she is glad
to have found an occupation that marries her passions and talents with
her personal values.
Likewise, Bria Williams ’17 felt at home at her new workplace, Zimpatica, a software solutions and business process management company based in Fairfax, Va., because it resembled the environment in Berea. The associate consultant found a niche community full of people who help each other grow, reminiscent of her time with the BereaCorps program and her college experience.
Williams was a computer science major at Berea and worked as a software development associate during the second year of her BereaCorps experience. “I was working with Scott Heggen, who was also my mentor at Berea. [Dr. Heggen] helped me develop a lot of my programming skills, and also just more of my confidence,” Williams said. “In terms of learning things, Scott is one of those people who will accept you where you are. He knows that I struggle to ask questions sometimes. As my boss, he remembered how I was as a student, [and] he created an environment for me where I didn’t have to be afraid to ask questions.”
During her first year with BereaCorps, she worked as an admissions associate for the Office of Admissions which was a little out of her comfort zone. However, the relationships and the skill set she built working there comes to her aid as a young professional.
“I have been to job fairs and did some recruiting for the company that I currently work for, and I was prepared for that,” Williams said. “I have done college fairs in three different states due to Admissions. So, [recruiting in job fairs] every once in a while for my current company is a breeze for me now. The people that I worked with—the admissions representatives—during my first year in BereaCorps, are all still in the same group chat that we were in, and we are always sending memes and jokes and talk to each other. So those connections that I made are still there.”
Both Williams and Teban spoke about the workshops and team bonding initiatives put together by Erica Woods ’15, a strategic initiatives coordinator. The administrators of the BereaCorps program organize events and workshops that help develop essential skills and professional acumen. The sessions covered topics like filing taxes, professional conduct, conflict management, financial management or navigating Microsoft Office’s full benefits. Supervisors also check up on BereaCorps participants regularly and offer assistance as needed.
“My philosophy is that everyone is a leader in their own way,” Woods said. “A lot of the workshops focus on leadership development, professional communications and strengths development, so people can understand where their strongest faculties are. I think a rewarding aspect of the program is when people find a passion for the next steps in life. Some people come into the program knowing exactly what they want to do; for some people, it is truly a gap year, and they’re trying to figure it out.”
BereaCorps offers development and exploration of the personal and the professional. It provides a space of stability and safety for students to discern their futures and kickstart careers. And it is tailored to the needs of recent graduates, to support graduate school applications or job applications, and to help participants figure out whether to stay close to home or give them the confidence and resources to bridge out.