Five Siblings Finish Berea
As President Lyle Roelofs prepared for a bittersweet conclusion to his tenure at Berea College—
his final commencement before he retired—he received a letter from Dr. Wendy Reasoner. Reasoner marked May 7, 2023, as the conclusion of her own family’s Berea journey. Her youngest son, Noah, would graduate, the last of her five children to do so.
“In August 2012,” she wrote, “we moved our oldest daughter, Kaitlyn, into a dorm at Berea College…. Over the next 11 years, we had at least one child at Berea every year, usually two, and several years three of our children were there at the same time…. Your presidential leadership at Berea College began and ended with our children’s attendance there.”
Since that fateful day in August more than a decade ago, the Reasoners have added two doctors, a conservationist, a veterinarian and a budding solar energy entrepreneur to the family. Not one of Wendy’s children carry any debt for their education.
Wendy, herself a first-generation college graduate, and Dr. Mark Reasoner are both experts in their respective fields and were both college faculty when they met. Her background is in anatomy and physiology; Mark is a theologian.
With a later start than most traditional newlyweds, the Reasoners started their family soon after they were married. Wendy opted to stay home with their children. She homeschooled all five, even leading them in pig dissection at the kitchen table.
“Naturally, this had financial implications,” she said. But for Wendy, being active in her children’s lives as they grew up outweighed any monetary gains she or the family may have enjoyed.
According to Noah Reasoner ’23, the kids didn’t miss out on much. “Food was always on the table,” he said. “We lived in a decent neighborhood. That was about it. When I was 12, I wanted a phone. My parents said I was allowed to have one—whenever I could afford it. We were always told if you want something, go out and get it, and we’ve all been better for that.”
Kaitlyn Reasoner ’16 was the first of the Reasoner kids to look into college. She understood that with four siblings following close behind her, paying for her education would not come easily.
“I knew I wanted to go to college,” she said. “I knew I was interested in something in healthcare. But I also knew that my parents were not really going to be able to financially support my college degree that much.”
So, Kaitlyn blazed a trail to Berea College, where she could study biology without taking out student loans. Soon, Kaitlyn was working as a teaching assistant in the biology department, working closely with Professor Ron Rosen, the Mabel D. Worth Chair in Science. Dr. Rosen introduced Kaitlyn to research in infectious disease.
“I did parasitology research with him,” she said. “We would go out to North Elkhorn Creek and collect specimens and study them in the lab.”
During her four years at Berea, Kaitlyn took advantage of every opportunity available to her. She did two research internships at Vanderbilt University. Another summer, she participated in the Shepherd Poverty Internship Program, which placed her in a Charleston, W.Va., hospital for the summer.
“That experience was really what sold me on going to medical school,” Kaitlyn said. “Berea was a transformational experience because it completely changed the opportunities I had.”
In addition to facilitating internships in Nashville and Charleston, Berea helped Kaitlyn get to the next level by providing a professional clothing allowance, travel assistance for going to interviews and funding for taking the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). When Kaitlyn graduated from Berea, she was granted a full-tuition scholarship to medical school at Vanderbilt. Having just finished her internal medicine residency, Kaitlyn will also soon complete an infectious disease fellowship, which will make her an infectious disease specialist.
“I want to emphasize how grateful I am for the opportunities that Berea gave me,” Kaitlyn said. “I have a moral calling to give back, to be a caring and contributing part of society, helping people who don’t otherwise have opportunities for medical care.”
The Four Who Followed
While Kaitlyn pursued her newfound opportunities at Berea, Seth Reasoner ’18 was preparing himself for a similar path. Seth’s entry into biomedical research began in high school. Participating in the American Chemical Society’s Project SEED (Summer Experiences for the Economically Disadvantaged), Seth spent his summers doing research at Eli Lilly.
Naturally, he entered Berea as a chemistry major. Like Kaitlyn, Seth did the Aspirnaut Summer Research Internship at Vanderbilt. He is now enrolled in the Medical Scientist Training Program at Vanderbilt, pursuing both an M.D. and a Ph.D. Like Kaitlyn, Seth is studying microbiology.
Starting in August 2015, three Reasoner siblings attended Berea. Emma Reasoner ’19 joined her brother and sister that fall. She studied biology like Kaitlyn, but Emma’s interests lay with animals. In high school, Emma worked at the Indianapolis Zoo. She took a job at the Berea College Farm and worked her way up to pig manager. After doing internships at the Alaska Sea Life Center and the Cheetah Conservation Fund, Emma joined the latter organization in Namibia, where she earned her master’s degree from the
Namibian University of Science and Technology. Emma returned to the U.S. to work with stranded animals at the Alaska Sea Life Center.
The year Kaitlyn graduated and moved on to Vanderbilt, Clara Reasoner ’21 joined Seth and Emma and began her path toward a career that blends the interests of her older siblings—veterinary science. Clara had also done Project SEED in high school and had worked at a veterinary clinic since she was 14.
At Berea, like Kaitlyn and Seth, she participated in the Aspirnaut research internship at Vanderbilt. Clara is now at Colorado State, pursuing a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and a Ph.D. Her area of expertise is bat viruses.
And finally, there is Noah, who does not have plans to be any kind of doctor. Though his siblings knew early on what they wanted to do in life, Noah had to think about it more. He joined Clara at Berea in 2019 and majored in agriculture and natural resources. He, too, took advantage of internship opportunities, spending summers at Big Horn National Forest in Wyoming and at Colorado Fresh Farms in Ft. Collins. This past summer, after he graduated, Noah took up another internship with Edelen Renewables, a state-of-the-art solar energy company based in Lexington.
This led to a job installing solar panels. As he puts in 70 hours per week, his first job out of college has him thinking entrepreneurially. The more he learns about the solar industry, the more he is thinking about starting his own solar installation business. He also signed up for the Air National Guard, where he’ll be learning signals intelligence one weekend a month.
“We feel very strongly that Berea really set our children on their path to where they are now,” said Wendy. “They’re all successful, contributing members of society, and they’re also very grateful for their education. I don’t think any of them ever doubted that they were prepared for the next level because they knew they had been challenged academically at Berea.”
Seth Reasoner relates that the entire family are ambassadors for Berea’s mission. “As the years have passed, our appreciation of Berea College has grown even more,” he said. “We have become passionate advocates for the mission as we mentor students pursuing similar careers.”
A Million-Dollar Impact
“I have a college degree, and I have no debt,” Noah mused. “Hardly anybody can say that anymore.”
Hardly anybody, except the other four Reasoner children and their fellow Berea alumni. “With labor earnings, stipends from internships and the limited financial help we could provide,” Wendy added, “all five of our children graduated debt free.”
To put that in perspective, each Reasoner sibling saved more than $180,000 on their undergraduate education. That is more than $900,000 saved in tuition alone. Add in paid internships and the medical and graduate school scholarships that followed, and the grand total saved by the Reasoner family is well over $1 million.
For now, the tightly knit Reasoners are a bit scattered, with two in Nashville, one in Alaska, one in Colorado and another in Kentucky. Wendy and Mark are still in Indiana. Noah doesn’t expect they’ll all be back together any time soon, though he does dream of owning a family compound one day, with sheep grazing near a field of solar panels.
“My parents are going to move to whomever has a grandkid first,” Noah predicted.