Front Row, Left to Right: Molly Smith ’15, Katie Grindstaff ’15, Lizbeth Wilson ’16, Richard Childers ’16, Jasmine Towne ’16. Back Row, Left To Right: Kerstin Wright ’16 and Erica Woods ’15
The real world can be a scary place, especially for newly-graduated college students looking to enter the professional workforce or graduate school. Fortunately for them, some of Berea’s most recent alumni have the opportunity to gain confidence and experience through the BereaCorps program.
Since the program began in June 2015, BereaCorps has employed 16 recent graduates in positions located in eight different College departments ranging from the Office of Admissions to Alumni and College Relations. The program is part of Berea College’s ongoing “Bridge” initiatives, specifically the “bridge-out” initiative. Bridge-out refers to a set of support mechanisms to assist students and graduates in their transition from Berea to a career or the next step of their educational endeavors, including support for funded internships for current students, assistance for purchasing professional clothing or paying fees for graduate school admissions testing, and other helpful programs.
During an employee’s time in the program, which can be an appointment of up to two years, BereaCorps offers first-hand experience in the field, networking opportunities, an on-site workshop training series, and professional conference opportunities. Teri Thompson, Vice President for Strategic Initiatives, who coordinates the program, says its benefits go both ways. “We are trying to give our recent graduates real-world work experience,” explained Thompson. “And, at the same time, the college is benefiting from having energetic, well-educated young persons working for the college and helping us achieve our mission.”
Kerstin Wright ’16 was one of eight alumni hired through the program in the spring of 2016. The German Studies major had plans to take a gap year to gain work experience before attending law school. BereaCorps took her on as an admissions representative, a position that sends Wright into the admissions region to speak with prospective students and student influencers about the opportunities Berea provides. Wright shares her personal experience that led her to attend Berea College to encourage students to pursue higher education.
Though she had planned to be a public defender one day, her BereaCorps experience has already shifted the area of law Wright plans to study. “I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do after I graduated,” recalled Wright. “But then I got in this position and realized I’m extremely passionate about education inequity and socioeconomic inequity.” She now has plans to attend law school and focus on work within the nonprofit sector.
In addition to the professional development opportunities afforded them through BereaCorps, these alumni have the chance to apply what they studied to their new positions. Communications major Jasmine Towne ’16 is a good example. Hired as a student story associate in the Marketing and Communications department, Towne can also gain experience in her chosen field.
“Berea College teaches us not to merely work hard, but to work smart. This has made it possible for me to successfully conquer and learn from each challenge that comes my way in this job.”
After her time with the program, she aspires to find a career that allows her to travel. “By the end of this program, I will be fully prepared to know how to present myself as a professional, network with others in my field, interact within a higher education setting, and take on whatever new challenges life has to present,” she said.
One employee in the 2017 BereaCorps cohort, Zackary Johnson, manages class reunion giving campaigns in the Office of Alumni and College Relations which oversees the Berea Fund—the annual giving program for the college. The job, he says, piqued his interest because of the responsibilities related to volunteer and campaign management, but it also provides the opportunity to learn software programs like WordPress and Microsoft Office.
“I like how every day can be so different,” Johnson said. “One day I could be working on programmatic projects such as event planning, or the next I could be designing a webpage and working one-on-one with a reunion chair volunteer. It will help me become more marketable to different companies.”
Marketability is certainly a desirable trait for a recent graduate to have when navigating the job market. BereaCorps gives participants a leg up on the competition and serves as a solid “bridge” to a successful career.