Alumna’s passions and pursuits guided by Berea-funded opportunities

It’s been almost four years since Katie Ackerman ’19 became the first recipient of the Henson Family Scholarship. The Beattyville, Ky., native will finish her master’s degree in educational psychology at the University of Cincinnati (UC) at the close of this year. Her degree, she said, focuses on understanding how people learn and the history and mechanisms of learning—a very fitting course of study for someone who took every opportunity to expand her knowledge while at Berea College. 

“Being at Berea, I got to study on a Navajo reservation, study abroad two times and complete a Harvard Medical School internship,” Ackerman said.

This plethora of opportunities not only shaped Ackerman’s career aspirations, but also helped her find her place and passion in a world much larger than Lee County, Ky. Through her experiences studying in Italy, Germany and France were enthralling, and her summer internship at Harvard Medical School was transformative, Ackerman said it was the experience on the Navajo reservation in Arizona that set her on her current educational and career path.

“When we went out to the reservation, and we got to sit in on an Indigenous school there—sit in classrooms and talk to students and teachers—we were able to really see how different the curriculum was from schools we visit in Berea,” Ackerman explained. “One of the biggest takeaways is they have such a different value system, and we could see those beliefs and values.

55% of 2019-20 graduates participated in an internship while attending Berea College. 

Photo by Tyler Rocquemore ’22

“One reason I changed my major halfway through college was going there and seeing these differences and injustices in the education system,” she continued. “So going forward now into my educational career, I’m trying to find ways to fight those injustices and have equity and equality in education for everybody.”

Ackerman chose to enroll at UC because it was one of three schools offering her preferred program that allowed her to stay relatively close to home to help with her mom, who is battling her fifth round of breast cancer, and a grandmother with growing health issues. Proximity to home and affordability were two key factors in making Berea a great fit as well.

Having these experiences is amazing, and it prepares you for the world. When you grow up not having money, you never think you’ll do those things. It’s such an amazing feeling to say, ‘Wow! I got to do all of that because people helped me do it.’

Katie Ackerman ’19

“If hadn’t gone to Berea, I probably wouldn’t have gone to college because I would have felt like I needed to stay home and take care of [my mom],” Ackerman said. “And then Cincinnati was new and exciting, and it was somewhere I could start fresh and make a difference, but still close enough to home so if something did happen, like Mom or Granny got sick, I could still go home and help.”

Berea allowed her the flexibility to pursue her education and prepared her for the journey to grad school. 

“A lot of times students feel unprepared for grad school, but I thought it was a great transition,” Ackerman said. “I took a lot from my classes because they prepared me for grad school, but moreover, it was a lot of the things that the scholarships and donors helped with—the Navajo trip, the two study abroad trips and my internship at Harvard. Those experiences helped me a lot.”

“I think it’s important for students from these backgrounds who wouldn’t be able to go to college if they didn’t go to Berea to also have opportunities to explore other countries, other cultures,” she added. “Having these experiences is amazing, and it prepares you for the world. When you grow up not having money, you never think you’ll do those things. It’s such an amazing feeling to say, ‘Wow! I got to do all of that because these people helped me do it.’” 


Abbie Darst '03 is an article writing, husband loving, kid raising, cheer coaching, God serving, busy woman. Whether it's been in sports, law enforcement or higher education, Abbie has dedicated her career to telling stories that speak of mission, passion and the best parts of human experience. She's been telling Berea's amazing stories since 2017.

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