Pursuing your curiosity with Jenifer Berry

In this week’s episode, we speak to Jenifer Berry about their educational path and career experiences. We talk about Jenifer’s journey from being an undergraduate student at The American University in Washington D.C. to pursuing a Masters of Arts degree at IU Bloomington. We speak about Jenifer’s what resilience means to them, how their college of arts and sciences degrees have influenced their perspective, and how we can better serve underrepresented students. 

Currently, Jenifer serves as a Lead Academic Advisor for the IU 21st Century Scholars Program. IUB21CS is a program founded in 1995 dedicated to provide financial and academic resources to support, retain, and graduate thousands of 21st Century Scholars recipients at Indiana University Bloomington. Jenifer explains that they are passionate about helping undergraduate students have a successful and enriching educational experience at IU Bloomington that will positively shape their futures as they transition out of higher education. Prior to joining IU 21st Century Scholars Program in 2011, Jenifer was one of the first Projectionists at the IU Cinema and was an Associate Instructor for the IU Department of Sociology for several years. As teaching is an additional passion of Jen’s, they are an Adjunct Instructor for Sociology as often as possible. 

Before Jenifer began their career path, they obtained their Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from The American University in Washington, D.C., where Jenifer is originally from. They continued to pursue their interest in sociology at Indiana University Bloomington. Ultimately, achieving their Masters of Arts in the subject.

Outside of their career and education, Jenifer enjoys photography and loves to take photos of Bloomington’s campus. 

Participate in Themester 2021 — Resilience

Season 5 of All Careers Considered is produced in conjunction with the College of Arts + Sciences Themester 2021 on Resilience. One way you can participate in Themester is to attend a Themester event.


Jasmine: Hey Hoosiers Welcome back to the all careers considered podcast hosted by the Walter Center for Career Achievement, the Career Service Center that specifically served students and alumni in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington. We are on a mission to help you achieve career success by supporting you in your pursuit of impactful experiences, designing your life, sharing your story and building meaningful connections. My name is Jasmine Mercado and I am an undergraduate student working for the Water Center for Career Achievement with an amazing team of undergraduate and graduate students, who you will hear from in subsequent episodes of the podcast. Next up in this week’s interview with Jennifer Berry, lead academic advisor at IUBS 21st Century Scholars Program. Jennifer served as one of the first projection is at the IU cinema and acts as an associate instructor for the IU Department of Sociology. They graduated from Indiana University Bloomington, in 2007. With a master’s degree in sociology, I had a lovely sit down interview to learn more about Jennifer’s education path, what resilience means to them, and how their college of arts and sciences degree have influenced their perspective. Enjoy the episode!

Jasmine: Okay, so you have had a great career in higher education, professional in your work supporting mentoring and advising undergraduate students. With all that being said, Would you like to start off by telling us your current role as a lead academic advisor of IU Bloomington 21st century scholar program?

Jenifer: Sure. Yeah. So as you mentioned, I am lead academic advisor. And there are three advisors in our unit one focuses on career initiatives. And the other focuses on our smart program, which supports students having academic challenges, and so as the lead and the campus liaison in a sense, so I make sure that all of the other advising units on campus know how to best work with 21st Century Scholars and when to refer to us. And that’s frequent. And so we want to make sure that once a student who may be assigned to as their first year moves into the rest of the university, that one they don’t lose touch with us, but also that they feel like they’re going somewhere where someone is aware of their scholarship and then knows who to refer them to if they run into any trouble along the way. So another part of my role is I work with students who are maybe direct admits, or in groups or another scholarship program where they’re not assigned to us officially. And so as the lead many students who aren’t on our rosters come my way, if they’re having trouble, questions about their scholarship aren’t really sure which way to go. Additionally, our director Vince Eisen, and myself have worked with other 21st century scholar offices in the state, helping them to learn some of our best practices to help them with regrouping and restructuring their 21st century scholar office as well. So you know, sometimes I’ve seen as like the face of advising for 21st century, which feels like a lot of pressure, but it’s fine. And I have been with the program, the longest, it’s been eight years that I’ve been with 21st century. So seeing the program grow, and a lot of that time, I think contributes to my role as lead having a lot of fluency and understanding of the scholarship.

Jasmine: I forgot to mention, I’m also a 21st century. So I kind of understand that a little bit from the student side, how did you choose sociology, your field of study, what motivated you to pick the industry that you’re currently in with the sociology degree?

Jenifer: Yeah, so it’s interesting, I’d say I chose sociology, under maybe under duress, almost. I was floating really, really badly in my undergrad institution, it was badly but because of from a time perspective, but I loved it. And my floating took the form of me just taking a whole bunch of everything, I was really interested in a lot of things and couldn’t decide on what I wanted to do. And so my experience and choosing sociology kind of speaks to how I present myself as an academic advisor. So I actually had an academic advisor who spoke up, they were not assigned to me, but they recognize that I was floating around and they said, it pulled me into their office and said, Hey, let’s talk about this. What’s your major? And I was like, Well, you know, maybe I’m thinking about doing an independent, you know, create my own major, you know, combining History and Sociology and literature and focusing on African American First Nations and Latin X folks. And she said to me, that’s great, but have you written the proposal for that? And I said, No, and she said, well you know, this is your third year here, and you transferred here. And she said, If you don’t pick a major you’ll never graduate. And that hit me really hard. So she said, and I often say this to students. She’s said, what are the classes that you’ve taken, did you really, really enjoy and really connect with and at that point, I had taken maybe an upper level sociology class with a professor at American University. Dr. Dickerson, and I think it was a race and ethnic course, Professor Dickerson and I talked and, you know, I enjoyed the class. And I said to this advisor, sociology, that was the one that I liked the most, and I think gels with me the best. And so that was it, you know, I changed my path, got a path and chose sociology, mostly because it was very broad. And I could see where I could get all of my other interests fulfilled within sociology. So my love of history, my love of pop culture, I am the child of two educators, and so I have a really strong interest in education and equity experiences there. So those things all can come under the umbrella of sociology. And so I was really pleased with that choice. And then I decided to go to graduate school. And that’s how I made my way to Indiana. I’m originally from Washington, DC, born and raised in the city, and I applied to a Ph. D. program, and was accepted. And that’s really the only reason I thought I’d ever be in Indiana. And so I came to IU and I did get my Master’s in sociology here and explored the Ph. D. program for a while and realized that wasn’t the best fit for me at the time. And then I found academic advising where I could see my use of sociology really coming into play. And then I moved from University Division, where I started as an advisor to 21st century and working with a program that focuses on first generation college students, and also students who come from a low and middle income background, helping them to have the best college experience that they can have to move them confidently to the next place. Well, I see sociology playing with it every day.

Jasmine: Right? And how would you say your sociology degree specifically from like the College of Arts and Sciences has influenced or enhanced your career so far?

Jenifer: So you are biased in a sense, because you’re a sociology major, so you know, how wonderful the department is and how well the faculty immerses themselves in their research, and then conveys that to their students. And while I was in graduate program, I’ve benefited from that experience, I expanded my knowledge from undergrad, which is what graduate school is supposed to do. And let me to just focus in on may have making sure I had a very firm solid understanding in the theoretical background of sociology, and then allowing me to focus on the other areas of interest, like race and ethnicity and education and taking those courses allowed me to see not only what good teaching is like, but also good scholarship and really seeing myself in my work. And so where sociology and 21st century come together, I feel like I use my degree every day, is that I have a very strong understanding of background of people and can understand that people’s different experiences are shaped by where they’re from, what experiences they had, as kids growing up, what schools they went to, what neighborhoods they lived in, and how they bring all those different things here to school, and then helping students who are first generation to navigate that process, while trying to navigate the self discovery process at the same time. And I think often, folks may overlook those two things, forget that these are students who are developing emerging adults, and having that experience along with trying to situate themselves in this new academic and scholarly place so that they can feel confident in fight imposter syndrome and things that work against us being successful. And so the different things that I learned and read about in the sociology program that I apply every day, so if a student comes to me, and you know, they’re really having doubts about their interests in their major, or where they can go moving forward, you know, I’m considering their experience. And you know, students open up and tell me where they’re from, and you know, how they’re feeling. And I take all of that and listen to them and hear what they say that they’re interested in, we try to figure out what is the best fit for them. And I think that that helps students to situate themselves, not just here in the moment at Indiana University, but in the larger context of society.

Jasmine: So, we are actually going to pivot a little bit to this semester’s topic of the podcast, which is resilience. Do you mind explaining what does resilience mean to you and the work that you do?

Jenifer: Sure. So, for me resilience looks like determination, and not giving up in the sense of recognizing that life isn’t going to be perfect, and that there are going to be hills and valleys and ups and downs. And still through all of that moving forward towards your goals and your hopes and your dreams. And so working with students, particularly freshmen, the majority of my roster are first time college students. And again, many are the first to go to college in their family, and to see students who in many ways the system may be built against them, you know, higher education was not originally built for folks who are everyday people are the elite, right to grow and continue to be the elite. And so when you think about the set of advantages that some people can bring with them to this space, and then you think about the set of potential disadvantages that many students can bring with them. So I do think that our students come with a skill set of resilience with them, so many may not realize it. And I think it’s helpful for us to help them activate that. So for example, if a student is struggling in a class, so right now, many midterm grades have comebacks, I have a lot of students who are assessing how they’re doing in their classes. I also do work with a lot of STEM students. And so they’re taking chemistry and calculus and biology their first semester. And so helping students to really see what it is that they already have inside of them, to motivate them to keep going and to connect to the things that are outside of them, to help them be supported. As they continue to move forward. Because college is hard. You know, I tell students it’s gonna become blood, sweat, and tears are what you you will experience through this process. And knowing that there will be challenging times ahead. And positive times that resilience kicks in to say I can get through these challenging times and to the more positive time, so helping students to really pull on what they already have, and then seek the sources to fill up their resources even more. I think that’s how I see resilience in students and really hope to encourage them to grow in that area.

Jasmine: Right following along the same lines, you mentioned motivation that you need to find something to motivate you who are what motivated you throughout your education?

Jenifer: That’s a really good question. Honestly, I think a lot of what motivated me was just this curiosity of the world and things and like I said, with my journey to sociology, I wanted to study everything. In undergrad, I hadn’t really given a lot of thought to graduate school. But once I started to understand what it was, I was like, Oh, wait, I can study more of what I like and what I want to focus on in graduate school. So that means that I get to take my curiosities, and I don’t have to worry about other people’s curiosities. I can focus on my own. And so that’s always been a motivator for me internally is wanting to know more things and wanting to learn more things. And this real pursuit of knowledge. My dad always said to me, as a kid, he would say, why do we do things? Why do we learn things and my response was to be an interesting person. And so that that is also a piece of my motivations. I like to have some things to give to the world and in through exploring academics, that gives me that pathway.

Jasmine: Right, You mentioned earlier imposter syndrome. And that is something that many young professionals experience in an internship or a job search, what advice would you give students to navigate imposter syndrome?

Jenifer: So first, if you have gotten that job, that internship, even if you’ve gotten that interview, that speaks to who you are, they saw something in you that told him we want to know more about this person, and or we want to work with this person. So if you ever arrived at the spot where you got the job, you got the internship and or you have gotten even the interview, it’s because you have good things that they see that they want to know more about. And so it’s important for students to not give up and feel like they’re not able or capable. I also tell students, a lot of times I don’t think I’ve ever met a dumb college student. Everybody here is intelligent. It’s about what you do with it and how you use it and how you shape and structure it and guide it. That just determines the different levels of your intelligence and your greatness, but everybody here is capable, and everybody here in college can do it. And that includes each individual. So it’s important to know that the things that you say quietly to yourself when you’re feeling your best, you shouldn’t believe that other people will see them too.

Jasmine: At these times. What advice would you give to current IU students as they valid COVID-19and looking ahead to their futures of what it may hold and all the uncertainty, how do you think that students can better manage these times?

Jenifer: Yeah, I think you know, going back to resilience, right? So, knowing that this these hard times won’t last forever, and having the hope that they won’t last forever, and then really focusing on assessing your individual status, like Are you doing well? Are you not doing well? What do you need to help you feel better, and that self-care piece is going to become increasingly important as we take on more, not just as individuals who grow and get internships and start our careers and go to graduate school, but as society continues to change and shift in the ways that it is knowing that there are better times coming and to hold on to that and to really believe who you are, and to take that with you as you move forward into the world knowing that you can do this, and you are capable, and you are smart, and valuable, and even worthy.

Jasmine: So, what are the biggest changes you see in yourself from when you were receiving your masters at IU? Up until now?

Jenifer: So interesting question, I would say self awareness, grad school was tough for me for a lot of reasons that imposter syndrome hit really hard for like, the first time ever in undergrad, I was like, oh, yeah, you know, I’m smart. And I excelled. And look, I got into this graduate program WOO! And then I went to grad classes, and I was like, whoa, wait, everybody else is in here is just as smart as me. And then the doubts a bit. And knowing how those things hit me being more self aware now than I was then, as it relates to mental health. And you know, really listening again to myself or oneself to think about what do I need. And that’s something that I didn’t do as much as I do now be more in tune to who I am as an individual or what I’m feeling, what I’m thinking, and then how to respond to that to take best care of myself. And I think that that helps to balance out, you know, the pressures that you feel in graduate school. And, you know, we’re thinking about, where’s this direction going to take me and all of the thoughts that we have around growing professionally, and personally, they become a little bit less scary if you’re in tune to how you’re feeling and then responding to those things to support yourself. And I think that helps you to go further and farther than you might think. Because you are your best self.

Jasmine: Yeah. Was there ever a moment where you wanted to quit? And what did you find kept going?

Jenifer: Yeah, absolutely. You know, quitting crossed my mind a lot in graduate school, but then feel like there’s just this very quiet, untouched ball of hope inside all of us. And some of us don’t know it’s there. But I think it’s there for everyone. But that’s the voice that’s deep inside of you that says you can do this. This is for you. This is yours. And that’s what what kept me going is really, I think the combination of all of the positive experiences and the positive things that people said to me, leading up to that moment, and me thinking, why would all these people lie to me? They wouldn`t lie to me, this is true. And so when I felt like, I can’t go on in this, then those are the things that I heard that that kept me going is that, you know, I am smart. I am capable, and I can do this.

Jasmine: Right. What has been your most proud moment of your career so far? If you can think of just one?

Jenifer: It’s a good question. You know, I think I think it’s like a, maybe a sort of a repetitive thing. I think one thing that I really, really like is when I get an email or student who comes to a drop in or schedules an appointment, and they’re not on my roster, they may or may not be a 21st century scholar. But the reason they came to me is because somebody told them, hey, I met with Jen Berry, and they were extremely helpful. And I think that what you’re going through right now that they would be able to help you through that. That makes me feel like what I’m doing is impacting someone and can impact someone else. So, you know, that word of mouth thing that happens that I think that is what makes me really feel good about the work that I do. And it connects to who I am personally, because I do want to help students, I want students to thrive and feel they’re like their best selves and, you know, appropriately that they can do everything, and nobody can tell them no.

Jasmine: Okay, so this is our last question, and I am very curious about this answer. What was your favorite thing to do when you were here as a student at IU?

Jenifer: Oh, wow, that’s an interesting question.

Jasmine: Your favorite memory and experience to something that you as a student really stuck out to you during your time here.

Jenifer: So, I think a lot of people talk about this, but it’s the campus you know, I have developed more into a photographer over the years. And part of what I really love to capture is the campus 1000s and 1000s of photos of different angles of all the buildings. And it’s just walking through campus and feeling like I am in a complete university setting like I am walking through, you know, the paths of great minds and people full of hope, who can create new things and generate new ideas and be innovative, I mean, that space and that’s what people are doing in these buildings. And these buildings are beautiful. So, the design and just how everything flows together, and, you know, the artistry and the architecture of IU. And so, the one thing that I have always enjoyed, and it really is one of the like, three reasons why I chose IU is because when I walk on campus, I’m on campus, and I am immersed in the culture of higher education, which feels like home to me, honestly, is also why I’ve been here almost 20 years.

Jasmine: All right, well, thank you so much, Jennifer. If students have any questions or want to keep up with the things that you are doing, how can they do s

Jenifer: Yeah, absolutely. So anybody can email me , check the 21st Century Scholars website, but also Instagram, for my photography, is B Town photographer. It’s just lots of photos around Bloomington.

Jasmine: Well, thank you so so so much. I really appreciate it, it was lovely to meet you. Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed for the podcast. I know our students will really appreciate it at the College of Arts and Sciences.

Jenifer: Thank you so much.

Jasmine: Thank you.

By The Walter Center For Career Achievement
The Walter Center For Career Achievement The Walter Center For Career Achievement