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Alumni working at alma mater share their thoughts

Berea College, with its unique mission, has a lasting impact on students. For this reason, many graduates have returned to work for the institution, both as faculty and staff. All have seen how Berea has changed over the years and have a first-hand account of what it is like to go from student to staff.

Some of the many alumni currently teaching or working at Berea.

Assistant Professor of Education Dr. Jon Saderholm, who graduated in 1987 with a B.A. in Physics and Mathematics, has been at Berea since 2007. He noted an expansion in opportunities Berea offers its students. Particularly, he mentioned the freedom of all students to travel abroad as opposed to only foreign language students during the time he was a student. He notes that there have been considerable advances in technology on campus, especially the EDGE Laptop Program.

Saderholm, who was a high school teacher before coming to Berea, believes Berea students get a more philosophical education than students at many other institutions, something which he thinks gives them a sense of purpose in the world after graduation.

“Berea is a great institution with an important mission that I believe in. The students and faculty here are truly cool,” shared Dr. Saderholm.

Dr. Billy Wooten, a 1998 graduate of Berea with a B.A. in English, has been working at Berea since 2002 and is now Associate Professor of Communication and Director of Forensics. Dr. Wooten believes being a Berea graduate has enhanced his teaching experience here.

“I feel like I am connected to my students in ways that only a Berea grad could be, meaning that we share many of the same pre-Berea circumstances and experiences, which helps me adapt my teaching style and content,” shared Dr. Wooten.

He also noted Berea’s mission and the desire to give back as a major influence in his decision to return.

“The mission of Berea is too unique to ignore, and I wanted to be part of that mission. Berea served me well, and now I want to serve her by doing the best I can for students who are in the same position I was 16 years ago.”

Joe Bagnoli, a 1988 graduate and now Associate Provost for Enrollment Management, expressed a similar feeling of gratitude to Berea. “I could not think of a more worthwhile human endeavor than to participate in the education of students who possess great academic promise but limited financial means. I believed I had a great debt to repay.”

Previous to his work for Berea, Bagnoli was Director of Admissions and Financial Aid for a college in West Virginia. While he witnessed high-quality academic programs there, he believes the overall Berea experience makes it unique.

“The total Berea experience with the Labor Program and the residential life dimensions of Berea make it a more robust educational experience overall.”

Though returning alumni have witnessed many changes throughout the years, Berea’s mission continues to be what drives the institution.

Mae Suramek, a 1995 graduate and now Director of Alumni Relations, notes many changes since she was a student. Many advances have been made, including the EPG Program, Berea's commitment to sustainability, the laptop program, and our emphasis on study abroad.

Suramek says that all of these are for the purpose of continuing Berea’s mission. “The more things change, the more they stay the same. New initiatives are all for the sole purpose of continuing our same mission, serving students of great promise....”

Like so many Berea graduates, administrative assistant for the Education Studies Department Lisa Rosenbarker credits Berea College for much of her growth. Rosenbarker is a 1991 graduate with a B.A. in Psychology and has been working at Berea since 2006.

Although she never anticipated working for her alma mater during her undergraduate career, Rosenbarker is glad to give back to the institution that has helped her.

“My time here was such a positive one that it was understandable I make the decision to work for the college, faculty, and staff that was responsible for so much of my growth,” said Rosenbarker.

She notes that though the faces have changed, the atmosphere on campus is the same.

“I see the same dedicated, compassionate staff and faculty I knew then. Berea College still offers such a rich, challenging environment in which students can grow and mature into the adults they are meant to be.”

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