News & Stories

July 6, 2021

Lessons learned and applied for others

By Debbie Rasure

Cassie LaJeunesse (20C) contributed reporting for the story

 

 

When the Berry campus closed in the spring of 2020 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, biochemistry major Sara Myers (21C) was worried about distance learning – but not for herself.

Myers tutored at Rome’s Open Door Home, a shelter for neglected and abused children, through Berry’s Community and Industry Work Partnership, an off-campus extension of the college work program, and she knew her students would struggle with virtual classes.

Determined to help even with the tutoring program officially paused, Myers and six other Berry students mobilized as volunteers, scheduling virtual sessions for the ODH students nearly every weeknight for the remainder of the school year. Their work was even more successful than they imagined: Grades improved significantly, and there were other equally important benefits.

 “Many of the students at ODH can only see their families for a short amount of time,” Myers explained. “When COVID hit, family time was limited even more. It was very difficult for the ODH students to feel supported, valued and loved. By meeting with them every day, the Berry tutors were able to support them emotionally and build relationships that helped boost their confidence and self-esteem while challenging them to reach their educational goals.”

Myers’ initiative and the tutoring team’s generosity touched the heart of Candice Spivey, the education and placing liaison for ODH. In her work, Spivey sees firsthand the depth of emotional need among ODH students.

“Our children and adolescents are so used to people coming in and out of their lives,” she said. “Sometimes they feel like no one truly cares. The Berry students’ perseverance, their eagerness to help and their willingness to stay online with our students meant a lot. The Berry tutors never gave up, and when you’re working with youth in difficult situations, that’s not something you see often.”

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Growing responsibility

Myers began tutoring at ODH as a sophomore. By the following year, she had been promoted to program coordinator, adding responsibility for making sure every aspect of the program ran smoothly, from scheduling and supervising the dozen-plus tutors to serving as liaison between Berry and ODH staff. Myers mastered a host of administrative skills as well as the softer, and perhaps even more important skills of listening, getting to know and understand others, and remaining flexible while staying focused on her goals.

Helping guide her through it all was her supervisor and mentor, Mark Kozera (79C, 19G), director of employer engagement for Berry’s Center for Personal and Professional Development and career consultant for students in the Campbell School of Business.

“He allows me to have responsibility and independence, but he’s always there to assist me and guide me,” Myers said. “It’s been a really rewarding and growing experience. The way he treats people – he listens really well – and he’s very intentional and caring and just very kind to everyone. I want to carry that forward in my life.”

 

Next steps

In addition to her experience with ODH, Myers has worked on campus in the Health and Wellness Center, served her fellow Berry students as a summer orientation leader and first-year mentor, and competed as a member of the tennis team. She studied abroad in Thailand, interned in Costa Rica teaching English and was a participant in the Honors Program. Now, with her senior year complete, she looks ahead to medical school and a career dedicated to serving people either in a developing country or a rural community in East Tennessee, her home state.

Regardless of where she ends up, Myers – an obviously remarkable individual in and of herself – possesses a deep understanding of what it takes to lead and how it feels to change lives. And she credits her experience at Berry for it.

“The leadership positions and the opportunities I’ve had to serve others, continuously challenge myself, and get out of my comfort zone have improved me as a person and my ability to impact the lives of others in ways that I never thought would happen before I came to Berry.”  

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