Berea Goes to Denmark

For myself and a number of other Bereans, Independence Day this year will be celebrated in an unusual location: the rural town of Rebild, in Denmark. The town has been celebrating American independence since 1912, and the four-day festival, called Rebildfesten, blends Danish and American traditions—with schnapps and hot dogs, burgers and pickled herring.

Why do the Danes celebrate the Fourth of July? It’s because of the large number of Danes who traveled and settled in America in the 19th century. Many of those Danish immigrants returned home later in life, but kept their American traditions.

Why are Bereans going to be there? Since the 1920s, Berea College has been involved in promoting the Danish model of folk education in Appalachia. When Olive Campbell set up a folk school at Berea in 1925, the model was viewed as a way to educate Appalachians without the expectation of them having to leave family, farms and community. It was also a way to preserve mountain culture. Since then, Berea College has hosted the Country Dance School and the Danish American Exchange program, which brought Danish gymnastics into the Berea College culture.   

Many of our Country Dancers will be joining in the festivities in Denmark’s Jutland area, including Berea College students Yulesia Guzman, Shelby Plas, Bryce Carlberg, and Jackson Napier, as will Berea’s Folk Circle Association, the Lexington Vintage Dancers, the Berea Bluegrass Ensemble, and the Berea Festival Dancers. In total, about 65 people from the Berea-area folk organizations will be traveling to Denmark. One of our instructors, Jennifer Rose Escobar, who also directs the Mountain Folk Festival, will sing the national anthem during the festivities.

Deborah Thompson, coordinator of our Country Dance Program, notes that the values of community cooperation, well-rounded education, and healthy activity have bonded Berea and Denmark for a long time. “We are excited to share our Appalachian American music, dance, and culture with the Danes and to learn more about their beautiful country,” she said. “There is nothing like the students experiencing another culture first-hand.”

Before Rebildfesten on the Fourth, we will all be attending the Landsstaevne Sports Festival, a noncompetitive event every four years with over 30,000 participants. It’s similar to our Summer Olympic Games. I will have the honor of attending the festival with the Danish royal family, for which I will have to wear a tuxedo and learn royal etiquette! Another honor, in connection with the festival, is being initiated into King Christian IV’s Guild, named in honor of Denmark’s longest reigning king, who ruled from 1588 – 1648.  The Guild named in his honor has a very interesting history going back to its founding during World War II.

This visit should be a wonderful and unique experience for all the Bereans involved. Stay tuned to Facebook and Instagram for photos and news from our trip.

Relentless Tenderness

Last week, I delivered remarks at Danforth Chapel, where the theme was “relentless tenderness,” or the call for all of us to not give up on our love for one another the way Christ does not fail in His love for us. To my surprise, Pope Francis also delivered a message on (revolutionary) tenderness around the same time, a coincidence that perhaps shows this is a subject on the minds of many. Here is what Pope Francis had to say:

“And what is tenderness? It is the love that comes close and becomes real. It is a moment that starts from our heart and reaches the eyes, the ears, the hands. Tenderness means to use our eyes to see the other, our ears to hear the other, to listen to children, the poor, those who are afraid of the future….Tenderness means to use our hands and our heart to comfort the other, to take care of those in need.”

Runaway Bunny book coverThe Reverend John G. Fee founded Berea College upon the “gospel of impartial love,” and my hope is that all of us can be as relentlessly loving as that gospel demands. My remarks at Chapel are below, along with a video of the service that includes my wife, Laurie, reading from The Runaway Bunny.

Danforth Chapel
25 April 2017
Lyle D. Roelofs
Relentless Tenderness


  • The children’s book Runaway Bunny, and
  • Psalm 139:1-18

These days it is considered a compliment to be “relentless.” We use that term to denote utter determination in an admirable way, or at least sort of admirable. The professor who makes absolute certain that every student does the assigned readings by whatever means necessary is “relentless.” The junior who is doing everything possible to get the internship that is vital for his or her career is “relentless.” The basketball team that plays a suffocating defense for an entire game is “relentless.” (Coach Nolan Richardson of U. of Arkansas called that defensive style “40 minutes of hell,” and if you watched the NCAA play-offs this year, the University of South Carolina played that way.)

Another example comes from one of my favorite movies from some years ago. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in the movie of that title were pretty bothered by relentless pursuit of a tracker. They kept saying to one another, “Who is that guy?” as they tried yet again to lose the team of men following them, succeeding finally only by jumping off a cliff into a roaring river. You’ll recall the best line of that movie. Sundance doesn’t want to jump off the cliff, and Cassidy asks him why. Sundance says, “Because I can’t swim.” (Clearly he should have gone to Berea!) Cassidy laughs and tells him not to worry about it because the fall will probably kill him. Anyway, they jump and survive and escape the relentless pursuit.

Even when the connotations are grudgingly favorable, however, it is still hard to think of “relentless” as a fully positive characteristic, because it really isn’t. If we are being relentless we are likely not taking a balanced approach to life and its various challenges.

So, today let’s look at two examples of relentless behavior. First, we have the mother rabbit, whose relentless pursuit of her bunny takes them through a stream, up a mountain, into a garden, into the air, across the sea, under the big top, and finally back home. The story is 75 years old, but young children never tire of hearing it and looking for the bunny in each picture. It still speaks truth about parental commitment and a mother’s determined love, too. By the way, don’t forget that Mother’s Day is coming up soon, May 14th.

We see a second example in Psalm 139 where our loving God displays a relentless side, too. He will hear every word we speak, box us in front and back, follow us as high as the heavens or as deep as hell or if we board an early flight (I think that’s what the King James Version means by “the wings of the morning”) or dive beneath the sea. No matter where we go, God’s hand is on us to guide us. Even the darkness is no help if you’re trying to hide from God. And, even as we were being formed in our mother’s womb, God was there, and for that reason are we “fearfully and wonderfully made,” in the lovely phrase again of the KJV.

In the end, we simply have to give way to God’s relentless pursuit, and the Psalmist ceases all the running away to acknowledge God’s precious care and keeping.

How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!

18 If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.

You can just about hear God replying, “Have a carrot!”

So, here we arrive at the redemption of relentlessness. These two examples suggest to us that it is OK, or even more than okay, to be relentlessly tender, to care enough about someone to never give up.

We have two examples, but any sermon writer knows that in order to really make a point, ideas need to come in threes. Fortunately, a third example is readily to hand, because Berea College was founded by a relentless man. The Rev. John G. Fee. Fee was threatened with death by hanging, by drowning, by gunshot, but nothing deterred him from the mission of living out the moral imperatives of his Christian belief, and the conviction that “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth” (Acts 17:26), and that to enslave or deny opportunity to anyone was contrary to God’s wishes and his duty. During his time of leading the fledgling college he was separated from his family for extended periods, lost two sons to early deaths, and stood up to angry mobs on more than one occasion. Even Cassius Clay, the wealthy man who supported Fee initially and provided him with the grant of land that was to become the College and town of Berea, came to think of him as too radical in his abolitionist views. Rather than direct confrontation, Clay favored a more gradual end to slavery by means of a Constitutional amendment. Relentless people are hard to get along with, and Clay and Fee eventually had a falling out.

But, surely it is because of Fee’s relentless desire to advance the cause of Christ by working for justice here in Kentucky, that Berea College exists today, and he attracted other men and women to that cause. You could say, really that Berea College itself, because it has stayed true to those founding commitments, remains relentlessly tender.

So, these are powerful examples, united both in the level of determination of a mother rabbit, of God, and of Rev. Fee, but also united in tenderness and love: mother’s love for a naughty bunny, a heavenly Father’s love for imperfect human beings, and an abolitionist’s impartial love for all peoples of the earth.

So that’s how to be admirably relentless, and, of course, I do also want you to be relentless in finishing the work you have left this semester.

Making Every Day Earth Day

Earth Day was last Saturday, but we take environmental sustainability so seriously at Berea College that we celebrate the entire month of April. And really, every day is Earth Day here, because of our daily efforts to reduce our impacts on our environment and teach others to do the same. The largest ways we do this is through living-learning laboratories, where our students not only study sustainability—they live it.

Berea College Farm FieldFor example, Berea College operates a 500-acre farm and trains our agriculture students in sustainable organic farming. Our Gardens and Green House, certified organic since 1998, use compost made from food waste collected daily from Dining Services. There is also an apiary used for honey production, pollination, and teaching. Our goal with the farm is to present a model of farming that is ecologically sound, socially acceptable, economically viable, and humane.

Then there is our Ecovillage, an ecologically sustainable residential complex for student raising families. Here, parents and children can learn to live in a sustainable way daily. The complex includes 50 apartments that incorporate a wide range of green design elements like passive solar heating, photovoltaic panels, and rooftop rainwater capture that contributes to landscape irrigation and gardening. Two great features of the Ecovillage are the Aquaponics Facility and the Sustainability and Environmental Studies (SENS) demonstration house. The Aquaponics Facility uses a recirculating aquaponics system to produce fish, like tilapia and catfish, and grow vegetables without soil. Solar panels heat the fish tanks, and greenhouse gutters collect rainwater for use in the system.

Solar panels next to a greenhouseThe SENS house serves as a way SENS majors can live out what they learn in their classes. Mostly self-sufficient, the SENS house uses different technologies for energy conservation and production, water conservation, waste treatment, and use of local construction materials. Four students live in the house while developing and implementing educational programs in sustainable living and ecological design.

Solar panels next to a gardenOne of our latest efforts to raise awareness of everyday sustainability involves maintaining campus landscaping. This month we will be placing signs on our lawns explaining the value of things many regard as unsightly and a nuisance, like dandelions and other “weeds.” Naturally occurring lawn plants that many people try to eradicate are actually very important for local ecosystems and food chains. Dandelions are among the first plants to bloom in spring and allow our critical pollinators—bees—to survive those early spring cold snaps. The bees themselves are also crucial to a thriving ecosystem, so to protect them and to achieve a balanced ecosystem on campus, we have a no-spray policy. We do not use pesticides or herbicides to kill insects or plants that some regard as undesirable, except in areas like our athletics fields where particular turf conditions are necessary. This makes our lawns and campus friendlier to humans as well.

Learn About our Landscape signageFrom living-learning laboratories for students to everyday policies and practices for faculty and staff, we are creating a mindful and sustainable community that acts, not in opposition to nature, but in concert with it. We are counting on our students to absorb this commitment on campus, and to take it to the world beyond after they graduate.

Then and Now: Nearly 150 years of African American Women Making History at Berea

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Mary and Julia Britton

African American Women have contributed much to Berea College over the years. In honor of Women’s History Month, I’d like to feature a few of them in this post.

Early in Berea College’s history, Julia Britton Hooks and her sister, Mary E. Britton, were among the College’s earliest students. Both born to a former slave, Julia and Mary attended in the early 1870s and were among the first African American women to attend college in Kentucky. Julia, who later became known as “the Angel of Beale Street” in Memphis for her vocal talents, also was the first African American faculty member here. Mary also joined the faculty, and later achieved another first, becoming the first African American female physician to be licensed in Kentucky. Julia was a charter member of the NAACP, while Mary was an original member of the Kentucky Negro Education Association.

This month we are honoring not only African American women alumni, but also great alumni from other schools through the Berea College Service Award, which recognizes individuals whose daily lives have provided outstanding service to our society in achieving the ideals of Berea’s Great Commitments.


Odessa Woolfolk and Lynda Whitt

Our recipients this year, who will be honored at our annual Service Convocation, are Odessa Woolfolk and Lynda Whitt, both from Birmingham, Alabama, from whence have hailed many wonderful Berea students.

Ms. Whitt, a guidance counselor at George Washington Carver High School, has led a number of Birmingham students whose parents did not have the financial resources to attend college to Berea. Her passion for helping students from dysfunctional environments attain an education and overcome “a broken system” has helped a great number of young people believe in themselves and work to achieve their dreams.

The former President and Board Chair of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Odessa Woolfolk has spent her life as an educator and activist, fighting socioeconomic barriers and prejudice in the areas of housing, community development, public welfare, and education.

Ms. Woolfolk is a founding member of Leadership Birmingham, served as the state chair of the National Conference of Christians and Jews and as the first African American President of Operation New Birmingham’s Board of Directors. The University of Alabama at Birmingham, where Ms. Woolfolk worked as the director of the Center for Urban Affairs and lecturer in political science, among several other positions, honored her with the establishment of the Odessa Woolfolk Presidential Community Service Award. It’s very exciting to recognize both Ms. Whitt and Ms. Woolfolk with the well-deserved honor of the Berea College Service Award.

Joining them on campus today, we have a number of talented African American women, students, faculty, and staff, who are working toward a more equal world and who also deserve to be recognized. Please visit, for example, the Feminist Artists of Kentucky exhibit at the Hutchins Library; it runs until March 31. Also, African American women leaders—faculty, staff, and administration—tell us about their influences and how women are nurtured on campus in this recent video for the African American Opportunity Fund.

A School for All Peoples of the Earth

Berea College remains a school for all peoples of the earth, and our diversity makes us better. Engagement with our fellow Bereans who are different creates unity in difference. Encountering disparate cultures and the myriad ways human lives are lived and understood makes us stronger by expanding our perspectives.

Inspired by the “gospel of impartial love,” our founders established the first interracial and coeducational college in the South, welcoming students and staff from “every clime and every nation” to work and study together, even as national political tensions pushed citizens toward war with each other.

Our sustained effort to build an inclusive community has often met resistance from the outside, most famously when the State of Kentucky targeted Berea College by passing legislation requiring segregation even for private colleges. Though Berea College fought “the Day Law,” named after Carl Day, the state representative who introduced it, all the way to the Supreme Court, the legal battle was ultimately lost. But even in defeat, Berea held to its principles. To ensure that promising African American students of limited means and excellent character could still receive a comparable education, the principals of the College raised money to set up the Lincoln Institute, near Louisville. And for the African American students then enrolled, the College paid their tuition so they could finish their educations in other states. After the Day Law was repealed in 1954, Berea College was again able to welcome African American students into our community.

Today, Berea College is one of the most diverse private liberal arts colleges in the United States. Forty percent of Berea College’s student body identifies as a person of color: there are approximately 21 percent African American, 10 percent Hispanic, and 7 percent international students, representing more than 60 countries.

Unfortunately, there are still cultural and political forces hostile not only to citizens of color, but also to immigrants and those of minority faiths, so we are still fighting against prejudice. Recent events have resulted in growing concern about Berea’s international, DACA, and Muslim students.

Our Center for International Education and the Campus Christian Center are taking the lead in supporting these students and all others who have become fearful over whether they are welcome in our society. In addition, we are monitoring developments that might affect them and are keeping them informed. For our Muslim students, we affirm our commitment to supporting all faith and spiritual traditions at Berea and our rejection of any discrimination on the basis of religion and any and all prejudice against the Islamic faith.

Many members of the Berea College community are also concerned with the plight of undocumented students and their families. Recently, I was in Washington, DC, sharing Berea’s mission as well as our concerns regarding the struggles of DACA students and their families, with members of our congressional delegation.

I believe there is reason for optimism that the President and Congress will act to support the thousands of undocumented students at America’s colleges and universities who are pursuing education to realize their ambitions to contribute to American society.

In the days and weeks ahead, the College will do all that it can to protect the legal rights of these students and their dream of a college education.

Awa Nyassi ’19

Here at Berea College and still in the 21st century, we work toward our vision of a world shaped by the power of love over hate, human dignity and equality, and peace with justice.

New Initiatives for the New Year –The Motley Fool Investment Club

Berea College has long given its students real-life experience and entrusted them with managing aspects of College operations. Beginning in Fall 2016, we expanded this initiative in a new direction by granting students the opportunity to manage a $100,000 portfolio of equities on the U.S. stock market.

This initiative is called the Berea College Motley Fool Investment Club (BC-MF Investment Club), the product of a partnership with The Motley Fool, an Alexandria, VA-based organization dedicated to “helping the world invest —better.” Open to any student, the club meets regularly, headed by an executive board of students. This year, the board includes:

  • Harry M. Tsiagbe, Lead Portfolio Manager and President
  • Eugeniu Prodan, Research Analyst and Vice President for Administration & Treasury
  • Starson Audate, Research Analyst and Vice President for Compliance & Taxes
  • Minashsha Z. Lamisa, Research Analyst and Vice President for Outreach Services
  • Syrine Bessaad, Research Analyst and Vice President for Outreach Services
  • Benjamin E. Willhite, Research Analyst and Vice President for Communications

To become a board member, students must apply and be accepted by a selection committee, which includes Trustee David Chow, Dr. Ian Norris, Dr. Nancy Sowers, Jeff Amburgey, Harry Tsiagbe, and alumnus David Kretzmann ’14, who serves as liaison with the Motley Fool organization. In addition, five of the club’s board members will participate in the Chartered Financial Analysts Institute Research Challenge. The CFA Challenge is a global competition that provides students with hands-on mentoring and intensive training in financial analysis.

The BC-MF Investment club is an outgrowth of our financial literacy course (GST 186), which is taught each semester as part of the college’s Fresh Start programming, also developed in partnership with the Fool. Students who complete GST 186 are well prepared for participation in the BC-MF Investment Club.

The origin of the nest egg for the Club funds came from the Hillier Family Foundation in 1996. This generous gift had earlier been managed through the college’s BUS 346 Investments course. With the advent of the new club, the Hillier Foundation allowed us to transfer management of those funds to it.

When the Investment Club took over the portfolio, the corpus amounted to about $47,000. We’ve raised additional funds to bring the total to $100,000, placing, in the usual Berea fashion, enormous trust in the lives of great promise attending our school. Much of the new support came from members of the Motley Fool organization, which sees this activity as a model that might be replicated at other colleges and universities. The support of these new ‘investors’ is being matched by resources from the Ventures Fund, which is managed by the President’s Office. The Club will provide semi-annual reports on its activities and transactions to all ‘investors’ as well as to the Board of Trustees.

The club’s goal is to grow the initial $100,000 to $500,000. Upon reaching the goal, allocations from Club funds will be provided to the College according to the same formula under which endowment returns provide support, thus providing a stable, and sustainable contribution to the operating budget of the College. We thus expect the BC-MF Club to “do good while doing well.”

Coming Together; Being There for One Another

Dear Bereans,

Throughout its history Berea College has been committed to inclusive community, as called for in its inspirational motto, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth” (Acts 17:26).  In words and actions, then, Berea became the first coeducational and interracial college in the South.  When the forces of segregationism arose in the late nineteenth century, Berea College stood as long as it was able against Kentucky’s Day Law, appealing that exclusionary requirement all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States.  When that law was set aside in the 1950s, the College was quick to re-integrate.  More recently the College extended its welcome to students from other countries and now admits about 7 percent of each incoming class from countries across the globe where young women and men face great challenges in attaining higher education. In recent decades, incoming classes have become more diverse racially and ethnically and with respect to gender identity, reaching beyond the founding mission of educating blacks and whites and women and men together.  With the incoming class in the fall of 2014 we also began to admit undocumented students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, an initiative that has added to our already impressive Hispanic and Latino student body cohorts.

In 2001 the College formally stated its dedication to equal protection for students and employees regardless of sexual orientation, and when the issue of fairness arose in the City of Berea in 2014, I wrote to the citizens in our town, sharing with them the advantages of a welcoming community. (That commentary is included in the Addendum document under the title: “To the Editor of the Berea Citizen.”)  In November of 2015, instances of racial and sexual harassment of members of our community by persons driving through campus began to occur, and on November 23 we as a community stood together in a demonstration against hate speech, proclaiming the power of love over hate.

In the wake of disturbing rhetoric throughout the presidential campaign, and with the results of the recent national election, profound concerns have arisen for many members of our community from across the political spectrum.

  • International students, particularly those from Muslim countries, are alarmed.
  • DACA students are rightly very concerned about the strongly anti-immigrant campaign rhetoric, including a pledge to roll back DACA, a highly successful program created by President Obama.
  • LGTBQ students and students of color report having experienced renewed verbal assaults.
  • Students who supported President-Elect Trump in the election are reporting serious verbal abuse on social media by those who opposed him.  (This concern has also arisen elsewhere. K. N. Pineda, an Hispanic NYU student who voted for Mr. Trump has an eloquent piece entitled “Divisions in My Dorm Room” in the New York Times on Monday, the 28th.)
  • Women are expressing concerns about gender equality.

I share these deep concerns and want to address two challenges for our community that stem from them.

First, I am concerned about the impact of these developments on the community we treasure at Berea College, a community created by our Great Commitments and dedicated to “the power of love over hate, human dignity and equality, and peace with justice.”  When persons in the community feel marginalized or threatened, it becomes much harder to focus on our educational mission and to dedicate ourselves to that larger enterprise of building community.  And, when the threats are exacerbated by externalities beyond our immediate control, we begin to wonder whether the consensus around our values is robust and intact, whether our commitment to true community will hold firm.

In times like this, though, the work of sustaining our strong community becomes even more important.  Even as that sense of togetherness is challenged, it becomes our best resource for supporting one another to transcend current challenges and to achieve our shared goals.  So, this is a good time to remind ourselves of those inclusive goals.  All are welcomed here no matter their gender, race, religion, country of origin, and even political ideology.  That’s right, fellow Bereans, whether we are Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Greens, etc., we need to welcome one another.  And all are not merely tolerated, but rather appreciated for the differences that distinguish us.  We value those differences because they are the foundation of the vibrancy, interest, challenge, learning, and ethical integrity of this community first created by Rev. John G. Fee.

Elections can be traumatic, particularly when “the country” seems to be in the mood for change.  It has been traumatic for our community as well, and in this area, as in so many others, I sincerely believe that Berea College needs to be a model for our town, for Kentucky, and even for the country as a whole, in showing that our unity can transcend such a challenge.  I heard some recent pertinent comments by President Obama on the subject of elections, democracy, and stability.  They are appended under the title, “Remarks by President Obama at the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative Town Hall.”  As Americans we are committed to managing transitions of political authority without disruption of our national unity, and in that we can join President Obama in his leadership.

We need to come together to meet these challenges to community.

A second concern for me is the immediate threat perceived by our DACA students to their continued access to the benefits and security that program has provided, of which access to higher education is an important component.  Hearing of those concerns in the days immediately following the election I wrote to our DACA students, and then subsequently shared that communication with the faculty and staff of the College.  That communication is reproduced below under the title, “Message to DACA students.”  The concerns of these students and others who support them have continued in the following days, and I have received a letter from that group requesting further commitments and assistance.  That communication is reproduced in the Addendum under the title “Letter from SGA.”

The SGA letter calls on Berea College to become a “sanctuary campus”  In alignment with a number of other schools, including Wesleyan University, Reed College, the University of Oregon, and Portland State University, have taken this step, using as a model “sanctuary cities” such as Austin, New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia and dozens of other municipalities, which have declared their intention not to cooperate with federal officials seeking to deport residents simply because they lack appropriate immigration documentation.

Taking a formal step of this sort will require further consultation on campus and with the Board of Trustees, but irrespective of that further process, please know that Berea College will remain committed to the principles of non-discrimination, including equal protection under the law, regardless of national origin or citizenship, and that the College will not voluntarily assist in any efforts by the federal government to deport our students, faculty, or staff solely because of their citizenship status.  These two commitments are fully consistent with our history, mission, and identity.

In an anxious time, such small steps, added to the assurances previously made in the letter to DACA students, may offer some comfort to the most vulnerable population in our community.  I expect them to be supported as well by other members of the community as a continuation of Berea College’s strong historical stand for social justice.

This is a time we need to be there for one another!  From that we can draw confidence and comfort.

Lyle Roelofs

A Penny Saved, Is A Penny Earned

I hope many of you heard about or have seen the testimony given by Vice President for Finance, Jeff Amburgey, to a House Ways and Means subcommittee on college endowments.  Jeff was asked to explain how Berea uses its endowment to pay the cost of tuition for all of its students, an accomplishment that is especially striking in an era where the cost of a college education has risen so dramatically. Jeff explained how we carefully manage our endowment and that the gap between the cost of providing an education to 1,600 students and the income generated by the endowment is covered by generous donations from alumni and friends to the Berea Fund.  Read an article with a link to video of Jeff’s testimony.

Certainly these financial procedures are essential to the Berea Way, but, as Jeff also pointed out, Berea’s success is rooted in the values established by the Great Commitments.  Because of the Seventh Great Commitment, which reminds us to live in a sustainable fashion, Bereans have developed a knack for joining idealistic goals with pragmatic solutions, and nowhere is this more evident today than in our continuous improvement team led by Aaron Beale. Continuous improvement describes a variety of methods used for improving processes, which even though it is often associated with manufacturing, can be used in many different occupations. For example, at Berea, continuous improvement has been used by the registrar’s office to make scheduling classes easier, by the sustainability office to make recycling more efficient, and by the marketing and communication office to simplify the work of our photographers and videographers, to name but a few of its applications.

Improving our efficiency enables us to do better work with fewer resources, and that means we can educate more students with our fixed level of resources. But, efficiency is about sustainability in more ways than one. Continuous improvement can also be the key to making workloads more manageable for faculty and staff.  Derrick Singleton, our vice president for operations sustainability, who brought continuous improvement to the College from his previous work in industry and developed the team, likes to say that the real purpose of continuous improvement is “to alleviate your pain.”  A couple years ago, the continuous improvement office, which was then led by the recently retired Richard Smith, made a video highlighting how we use these processes to save money and enhance the quality of our working lives. I hope you will take the time to view it as it provides a unique, behind the scenes view of the college and because I hope some of you will be inspired to apply the principles yourself.

I should also note that our continuous improvement efforts serve our students in another way. Students who participate in these efforts learn skills that are applied almost universally in the corporate world. Because we involve students in all phases of these continuous improvement projects, from conception to implementation, they will enter the work world prepared to contribute in leadership roles.

To learn more about the various methods for achieving continuous improvement and how we use them to enhance the mission of Berea College, see

A First for Berea

Anphoto for blogne Frank said, “How wonderful that no one need wait a single moment to improve the world.” This aspiration has been ever present at Berea College, but on September 1st we will be celebrating not only the new school year, but also a campus first. That day will be our first ever Giving Day, as we invite our supporters to help us raise $25,000 in 25 hours* through online giving.

A new school year is always an exciting time on campus. Welcoming a new class of Bereans to our community always reminds us of why these students come. First and foremost they are here because they are outstanding students who have earned their place among the best and brightest. Second, but just as importantly, they are only able to be here because of the generosity of our supporters who have made it possible to provide a high-quality education without charging tuition.

Move in - welcome to your new homeLaurie and I always think especially about what arrival day means for our first-generation college students and their families.  As we help the incoming class move in, we encounter their excitement, their pride, their anxiety, all their hopes and fears as they face such an important transition and transformation in their lives.  In that situation I am so reassured that our faculty and staff care deeply and have the experience successfully guide them through the life-changing and transformational experience that can only happen here. Berea’s mission isn’t just talk. It’s deeply rooted within the hearts and souls of everyone on campus. This passion and commitment to our mission are the reasons we are celebrating Giving Day.

We have made promises to these students, a high-quality education and an experience of learning through work. While other schools depend on the tuition, Berea runs on commitment, on the support of our friends and alumni, who believe that the education of deserving students should not depend on their ability to pay.

This September 1st, you can help us keep that promise by making a gift online, joining us and the whole community in celebrating another year of Berea’s Great Commitments. Will you help us keep that promise?

To stay updated on our progress during Berea’s first ever Giving Day click here:

Follow Berea College on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat and stay tuned on September 1st for more information on how you can join in the fun on Berea’s first ever Giving Day.

* OK, a little longer than the typical day


Tension? Balance? Synergy?

The Berea College community is made of many individuals with almost as many passions. And while we are bound by a shared commitment to excellence and to education, these passions sometimes lead to tension with each other and difficult balancing acts. This can be a challenge, but I believe that by looking beyond tension and even balance for synergy, we foster a stronger and more intentional community.


Berea College honors Eight Great Commitments, so there are a LOT of places tension can develop and many places to seek balance.  For example, when we consider “whom shall we serve,” the question arises, should we focus on Appalachian students from the mountains or emphasize our commitment to interracial community and education? Similar conundrums occur when we ask, how do we honor our Christian commitment while recognizing that “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth, (Acts 17:26)” whatever their faith commitment, and welcoming all into the community; or how should we balance the tension and stress for students who participate in a very rigorous academic program while making substantial time commitments to their work for the College and their interest in service?

When the community confronts such questions, Berea’s approach is unlike the strategies that most other institutions use. For example, unlike other institutions, we do not simply allot each idea a certain amount of resources and “let a 1000 flowers bloom.”  Nor do we ask the community to vote on priorities for the year and use the results to choose between alternatives, because we are committed to all of the Great Commitments regardless of changes in outside circumstances or our own varying interests.  Most importantly, we do not simply ignore the tensions, which is probably the most common strategy of all when it comes to institutional planning.

How, then, does Berea College confront these challenges as a community? The truth is, there is no simple recipe or governance process, but our solutions and outcomes often reflect a synergy between efforts that might have been in tension, a synergy that finds value beyond simple balance.

A good example of this is how we approach the tension between our Second and Seventh Great Commitments to a high quality liberal arts education and a labor program requiring all students also to provide upwards of 10 hours of work to the College each week.  In this case the tension manifests itself as stress in the lives of students who are trying to meet both of those obligations at a high level of accomplishment.  And simply seeking balance might mean lower expectations in both areas, so that students could accommodate both a full academic schedule and their labor contributions.  Here, the synergy we have found is the understanding that work is a key part of student learning.

Jay Buckner, multimedia production manager, helps Felicia Johnson '17 develop skills in video editing as part of her labor position in Integrated Marketing & Communications.

Jay Buckner, multimedia production manager, helps Felicia Johnson ’17 develop skills in video editing as part of her labor position.

Labor supervisors are not only helping students learn work skills, but also supporting them in learning the time management abilities that will be crucial to them later in their future busy professional lives.  And, many of Berea’s labor positions allow students the opportunity to apply what they are learning in their courses.  While not every current Berea student would agree that seeing work as part of education resolves that tension, I have spoken with countless alumni who see that aspect of their Berea education as its single most important aspect and a key reason for the successes they have achieved in their professional lives.


Does the realization that work contributes so essentially to the educational experience fully resolve the tension for Berea students?  No, it does not, and we are very aware that these pressures are a challenge for our students. So I am very happyrevised-wheel-2015-no-shadow-290x300 that our newly created FRESH Start initiative, will introduce understanding of stress and coping skills to our students in their first year, as a way to improve their academic performance and health, with the added benefit of providing a model for understanding how activities in one area of life connect to other areas. The model uses eight dimensions of wellness: emotional, financial, intellectual, occupational, physical, social, spiritual, and sustainable. Through the program, students will see that one’s occupational wellness influences all the other dimensions, not just financial wellness, as some might expect.  Understanding these interrelations helps prepare students for success throughout college and also, for their futures, to seek synergy when facing similar challenges later in life.