Please note that Jen Berry goes by they/she pronouns.
Founded in 1990, the 21st Century Scholarship Program at Indiana University provides full-tuition scholarships to first-generation Indiana residents from low and middle-class families. Participating students have access to advising, mentoring, tutoring, and other academic resources to support their success at Indiana University.
Jen Berry, the Lead 21st Century Scholars academic advisor and STEM Program coordinator, was recently selected as assistant director for the 21st Century Scholars Program. I spoke with Jen about their career path, the new position, and the importance of diversity and representation in higher education administration.
“I came to Bloomington in 2004, earning my master’s degree in sociology,” said Jen. “My parents were educators. I grew up in DC public schools and became passionate about supporting students from historically marginalized populations. I wanted to make sure that they had an excellent and equitable educational experience. I found academic advising aligned with my personal and professional passions, and I enjoyed being in Bloomington.”
Jen spoke fondly of their background as academic advisor. “I began advising with the University Division in 2011, then the opportunity opened here (with 21st Century Scholars), and I got the position as the only advisor with the program. We were much smaller then and organized very differently. The program grew over the years, and now we have three academic advisors on the team.”
In my new role, “I want to be intentional about structuring our advising programs to consider the needs of first-generation and low or middle-income students. I am especially interested in increasing retention and graduation rates. As higher education professionals, it's important for us to make sure that students aren’t being thrust into cultural expectations that don’t align with the student’s own personal values.”
Vincent Isom, the Indiana University director of the 21st Century Scholars Program, describes Jen as a “cornerstone of the program.”
“This promotion is well-deserved,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to watch her career grow over the years and participate in her interview process. Jen’s longevity with the program means that she understands the ins and outs of the scholarship, the importance of advising, and the needs of our scholars. She takes a lot of things off my plate in the advising realm and collects information about students.”
In addition to becoming a higher education administrator, Jen intends to continue working with students. “I teach for the IU sociology department whenever I have the opportunity. Last year I taught Race and Ethnic Relations, both fall and spring. In the summer of 2022, I taught Racism as a Social Problem for the Groups Scholars Program. I still have one foot in advising. While I’m glad to be growing on a different professional pathway, I’m glad that I don’t have to give up my everyday interactions with students.”
Lastly, Jen and I spoke of the importance of representation and diversity in higher education. “I’m finishing my first semester as a doctoral student in Higher Education and Student Affairs,” Jen said. “I want to focus on first-generation students, specifically first-generation Black students, and their experiences on college campuses, in college classrooms, and with academic advising.
“I see my visibility as a Black queer person as necessary. It is important for students to see folks like me in administrative and leadership positions so students from marginalized communities feel like they too can belong and be included.”
Visit 21st Century Scholars Program to learn more.