My Winthrop Experience

Jessica Berry '08
Residence: Orangeburg, South Carolina
Degree: General communications disorders
Occupation: Assistant professor of speech pathology, SCSU; owner, Berry Institute

Dr. Jessica Berry '08 knows firsthand the challenges Gullah/Geechee natives face in the classroom.

The distinct language — a mix of African language and English — originates from Southern coastal cities like Charleston and nearby Huger, South Carolina, where Berry was raised. As a child, she struggled with the dialect in classroom settings and has since then tied much of her work as a speech language pathologist to dismantling negative connotations about the Gullah/Geechee language, culture and community.

Her interest in communication was cultivated at Winthrop. Berry recalled that her professors encouraged her to plan ahead for life after Winthrop.

"[They] told us that Winthrop was just the starting point if we wanted a successful career as a speech language pathologist. From course number one, we knew that after Winthrop was grad school. I am thankful that they did not give me false hope and they pushed us all to pursue graduate education," said Berry, now owner of Berry Institute, a private pediatric speech therapy practice.

She is also an assistant professor of speech pathology and audiology at South Carolina State University, and she contracts with the Charleston County School district to offer educators professional development seminars about Gullah/Geechee through the Encourage Me! program.

Her forward thinking nature and the ability to take the lead come naturally for Berry, who spent her undergraduate years at Winthrop as an active member of the Council of Student Leaders and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Her singing background even led her to participate in the university's various choirs, allowing her to travel and tour with the Winthrop Chorale and Winthrop Chamber Singers.

"Each of these organizations enhanced my leadership abilities and equipped me for graduate studies and beyond," she said. Berry furthered her studies in Gullah/Geechee at South Carolina State University and was subsequently offered a full academic scholarship to complete doctoral studies at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she studied under renowned child language scholar Dr. Janna Oetting.

Berry's doctoral work has been published in the Journal of Speech Language Hearing Research and she has worked as a translator/transcriber with the Smithsonian Museum of African-American History and Culture.

"I knew that Winthrop was where I wanted to attend, so it was the only university that I applied to. I had several people tell me that I should diversify my applications but I was determined that I would be an Eagle," she said. "The rest is history, and I am so happy that I followed my heart and attended Winthrop University."

She encourages prospective students to follow their heart as well and "give Winthrop a try." Her advice to current students: take it all in.

"Winthrop provides a world class, diverse experience that is unmatched. Enjoy every moment because it goes by fast. Join that organization, take that trip, study abroad. Your years at Winthrop are the beginning of the rest of your life; make it count," she said.

And Berry has been making it count ever since. She obtained her Ph.D. before the age of 30; married her college sweetheart, Wilmont Berry '09; and gave birth to their daughter, Savannah Grace. She also has been recognized by the South Carolina Speech & Hearing Association.