"I am forever grateful that my college experience turned out the way it did. The donors who support scholarships are giving that value of education to me and other students, and I just think that's a beautiful thing."
Summer Le, Class of 2023
Senior communication major Summer Le arrived at Berry eager to find a more well-rounded experience than she'd discovered at the commuter school she attended near her Knoxville, Tennessee, home.
"We would go there strictly for academics and then go home. There were no sports, no extracurriculars. I just felt there was a big part of my college experience missing. I didn't find myself growing in leadership or forming a community for myself."
She began to explore options that "offered the holistic experience I was looking for" and provided space for her to learn independence and discover her own identity, while not too far from family.
Berry soon rose to the top of her list.
"God is the reason I do everything. So, I was looking for a school that would encourage me to grow in my faith while also exploring other dimensions of life, whether that be community or racial reconciliation. I absolutely fell in love with the campus as well. Not gonna lie, the Ford Buildings sold me, but also the people I met."
NAVIGATING CULTURE AND EDUCATION
As the American-born eldest daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, Summer was deeply ingrained in family life. She translated for family and neighbors at a young age, cared for her four younger sisters, and even represented the family at PTA meetings when her parents were working.
"Our Asian culture is a collective culture, and that's what I was used to. Coming to Berry, I found, now that I had the opportunity to do anything my heart desired, I didn't even know where to start. I'm very grateful that the people I ran into - my professors and advisors - guided me. I've found an amazing mix of student organizations, classes and a completely different major."
Originally a nursing major, Summer was pursuing a path she and her family felt would help her be financially independent. She earned credentials to be a certified nursing assistant (CNA) right after high school and was working with the geriatric population both in nursing homes and home caregiving. But the unexpected death of a friend in a car accident during her second semester at Berry caused Summer to reevaluate her choices.
"I realized that as much as I loved the relationship side of nursing, there was this creative outlet that wasn't being fulfilled for me. Writing has always been one of those things I've loved doing, whether it be poetry or hard news. As I talked with the coordinator for the communications major, I found myself gravitating towards it."
COMMUNICATING IN A DIGITAL WORLD
Berry's LifeWorks Program also provides her a training ground to hone social media skills that will be beneficial in her career. "I work as a social media editor for the school newspaper and as a social media coordinator for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. I'm just so grateful that my Berry experience has been a lot more than I thought it would be, not just in terms of community or leadership, but shaping my identity as a person. I'm navigating cultural resistance as I am also forming my own identity as an Asian-American. I've had the opportunity to apply that in leadership positions within the Diversity and Inclusion efforts on campus.
"From algorithms to engagements, social media has always just interested me because there's a psychological component to it. The world has become so digital - even more so over the pandemic. It's important to be digitally aware. Through my positions, I've been able to really learn how to communicate things digitally, creatively, and also manage and organize a lot of content."
Fluent in both English and Vietnamese, she dreams of working as a UNICEF ambassador or for the United Nations and knows social media will be an important tool. She also feels inspired by her paternal grandmother who runs orphanages in Vietnam.
"There are so many options open. In Vietnam, in the south, they have a UNICEF organization where they need a lot of English translators or people to teach English. I'm already qualified to teach English as a foreign language. If I could use my skills to help the people in my family's home country, I would love to do that."
THE VALUE OF THE GIFT OF OPPORTUNITY
Summer found the well-rounded college experience she craved at Berry, and none of that would have been possible without the gift of opportunity she received through scholarships.
"I am forever grateful that my college experience turned out the way it did. The donors who support scholarships are giving that value of education to me and other students, and I just think that's a beautiful thing. I hope to be able to give that experience to others in the future."