No-cost tuition, outstanding academics and a breathtaking campus make Berea College special. So do free student laptops, paid jobs in the Labor Program and the chance for lifelong friendships through it all. Many elements combine to make a Berea College education exceptional, yet every so often, a single event connects them all.

Students in front of Carter Caves.
Photo and video students and staff from Berea College Marketing and Communications. Photo by Ruth Oremus

In April, Crystal Wylie ’05, Berea’s director of digital multimedia strategy, along with Zack Thompson, associate director of digital multimedia strategy, and Bee Lakes, strategic marketing manager, led 15 students to Carter Caves State Resort Park in Kentucky for an unforgettable educational experience. Year-round, these students work at a frenetic pace to capture photos and create videos for the College’s Marketing and Communications team, and Wylie said she wanted to give them a chance to reconnect with the reasons they chose to pursue this work in the first place.

“They work so, so hard. I wanted to take them somewhere beautiful so they could take a breath, enjoy each other’s company and further their already exceptional talents,” Wylie said.

Student holding a camera outside of the Cave
Estaban ’22 checks his camera settings while shooting photographs around the Carter Caves landscape. Photo by Gaston Jarju ’23

Shooting high-quality photos and videos in the nearly lightless conditions of a cave system requires a host of special skills that students can’t practice in a studio. But with the help of their supervisors and some specialty equipment, the students discovered how to make beautiful images underground. The students showed such professionalism and maturity that their guides allowed them to access restricted areas normally off limits to everyone but park employees and researchers. These areas included rarely seen bat roosts, where students took close-up images of the slumbering critters.

bat hanging in a cave
An up close picture of a bat sleeping in the cave, shot by Nay Kaw ’23 using techniques he learned in his labor position and on this trip.

“Caves can pose a challenge, so special light painting tools, strobe lighting and long-exposure photography techniques were required to do this properly,” Wylie said. “It was great seeing them work as a team, holding lights for each other, with the more experienced students training those with less experience. It was worth every penny.”

As you may imagine, an experience like this is no small expense. But thanks to the generosity of donors and Discovery Fund grants available through the Office of Internships and Career Development, students got to learn firsthand that a Berea College education goes far beyond the classroom—even underground. Instead of worrying about how they’d cover meals, travel and shelter for the night, students like Student Photography Supervisor Tyler ’22, could focus on learning new skills and building bonds with classmates amid gorgeous scenery.

Photo by Christopher Rice ’22

“It was fun expressing my creativity in a new setting, and I liked the challenge of learning new photography techniques to properly capture images in the caves,” Tyler said. “The Carter Caves trip is one I’ll never forget. I could hardly feel more thankful.”

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