Growing up in rural Kentucky, Dustin Cooper ’22 knew from a young age that he wanted the opportunity to attend college. This past May, Cooper realized his dream, becoming the first in his family to earn a college degree.

His reflection captures the value of affordable education and cuts to the heart of Berea’s mission: “No matter who you are, no matter where you came from, everybody deserves a chance to try and make something of themselves,” he said. “I just lucked out into having such a place close to home.”

Cooper’s childhood held many challenges, including watching his parents struggle with addiction.

“People can say what they want about being raised in the situation I was raised in, but it does teach you a lot,” Cooper said. “It teaches you the person that you don’t want to be. It teaches you the things that you should avoid, the things you don’t want to do. And I took all of that to heart.”

Cooper was raised by his grandparents, and, like many members of his extended family, they work jobs in construction and fast food that take a physical toll on their health. From this experience, Cooper knew he wanted to find a different path, and he gravitated to a major in computer science.

“It’s a big step coming from there to here,” Cooper said of his journey to and through Berea.

Graduation photograph of Dustin Copper hoolding his degree folder.
Photo Credits Tyler Rocquemore

For Cooper, the “here” refers to all that Berea has to offer, from one-on-one mentoring with professors who truly listen, to Labor Program supervisors who steer students toward valuable internship opportunities.
“The small setting of Berea really opens a lot of doors to make connections with your professors and your supervisors,” he said. “[These are] things you can carry on beyond college after you graduate.”

Soon, two state-of-the-art technology buildings will join the long list of what Berea has to offer. As students like Cooper work to overcome challenges and build new futures, they will have access to learning labs and design spaces they deserve.

Computer science is all about change, Cooper noted. “It’s probably the field that changes the most over time.”

Berea stands ready to keep pace with this ever-changing field by investing in students like Cooper who jump in with both feet, taking advantage of all the opportunities Berea has to offer. During his time at Berea, Cooper quickly worked his way up in labor positions to a student-management position in Facilities Management, later serving as a teaching assistant for Introduction to Engineering Design and earning an internship at Freedom Mortgage, all while remaining on the Dean’s List.

Berea students have so much to gain from the investment in their futures, and they take full advantage of an affordable education.

“If it wasn’t for Berea, I’m not really sure where I’d be right now,” Cooper said shortly before his graduation. “I definitely would not be as successful as I am today. I would probably be working in some fast-food or construction industry back home. But those things take a toll on your mind, on your body, on your relationships. It just really goes to show how important education is and how important affordable education is. Without our donors, this place couldn’t exist, and the education that we all deserve wouldn’t be here.”

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