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Direction (and opportunity)

Ryan James came to Berry with a will to work and a heart for the needy. What he lacked was direction.

His college search wasn’t simple. He dreamed of attending a private liberal arts college, but to do so, Ryan knew he would have to work his way through school. At the same time, he hoped to find an affordable option that would make it possible for his family to send his twin sister to college as well.

He found the perfect solution in Berry’s Gate of Opportunity Scholarship Program, a unique mission-based scholarship designed to help students work their way through college with the prospect of graduating debt free. Each scholarship represents a partnership among a donor, a student and his or her family, and Berry, with each partner contributing approximately one-third of the cost of the student’s education. The student’s portion comes largely through extensive participation in Berry’s Work Experience Program.

“The Gate of Opportunity Scholarship allowed me to go to Berry,” Ryan said. “But it also made it possible for my twin sister to attend school (at the University of Maine). That was really important to me.”

Once at Berry, Ryan was free to begin exploring his future aspirations as a student worker in the Bonner Center for Community Engagement, the on-campus home for the service-oriented Bonner Scholars Program. His experiences in the Bonner Center, coupled with a visit to the Bonner Foundation’s national headquarters in New Jersey, provided the focus that he needed.

“It inspired me to change what I was initially planning to study to something that’s more service oriented; it gave me direction,” he explained. “My desire to pursue a career in local service is a direct result of the work I do.”

Now a double major in history and economics, Ryan is both a high-performing student and an accomplished distance runner competing in cross country and track. Those commitments, combined with his student work responsibilities, might sound like a heavy load, but Ryan finds success by being very intentional with his time.

“I book my day down to the minute,” he said. “Whenever I’m not in class, I’m working. When I’m not studying, I’m running. And when I’m not running, I’m sleeping.”

Looking back on the journey that brought him to Berry, Ryan feels a tremendous sense of gratitude toward those who opened the door of opportunity to him and, by extension, his sister.

“I’m very grateful for how the Gate Scholarship has allowed me to narrow my focus on what I want to do with my life,” he stated. “Thank you very much for what you’ve done for me and my family. I don’t think I could ever repay it.”

By Alyssa Hollingsworth
Student Editorial Assistant
 

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