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Life Before the Zoo: The Justin Berry Story

Up until going to college, Justin Berry had spent all of his life in his tiny hometown of Fairfield, Vermont, forty minutes north of the state capital Burlington. His parents were city dwellers who decided to move to the New England countryside to live a more pastoral life, and though Berry enjoyed his upbringing he knew that he wanted to see more of the world than just his hometown. Thus unlike many of the other young people in his community, Berry choose to attend college out of state and enrolled in Villanova University located outside of Philadelphia. Though Berry knew that his whole world and life would change in a different environment, he was caught off guard by the unexpected ways Villanova differed than his hometown.

In Villanova, Berry studied Political Science and felt that he wanted to go into the law profession after college, more for the title than the actual work involved in being in law.

“We get caught up with the nouns, and not the verbs of what we want to be,” Berry said.

He felt a desire to teach at the middle and high school level for a while and applied for several teaching positions around the country. After several interviews, including one inside the North Tower of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, Berry was accepted to a year-long teaching position in an all boys Catholic school in South Central Los Angeles. After graduation Berry embarked on a 3000 mile drive across the country, stopping at many National Parks along the way, until arriving to his new home in LA.

In the 15 years that Berry spent living in LA before moving to Kalamazoo, he taught at a wide variety of schools ranging from private Catholic schools to up and coming charter schools. In addition, he taught at all grades from 6th to senior year of high school. He was even a soccer coach for the boys teams at the schools he taught. After spending 10 years teaching in underserved communities in LA, Berry enrolled in a PhD program at USC for Political Science. At USC, during his final year of the program his advisor encouraged him to apply to open positions at liberal arts schools to teach at the undergraduate level. After touring Kalamazoo College in 2013, he accepted the offer to teach in the Political Science department following his completion of his thesis at USC. Berry graduated from USC in 2014 with a PhD in Political Science and International Relations and began teaching at K the following fall.

Berry spent 15 years of his life in LA and considers the city to be home just like his hometown of Fairfield. Nonetheless, Berry acknowledges that Kalamazoo feels more like his hometown than LA ever did, and is excited to be back in an environment like so. In his time outside class, Berry enjoys skiing, biking, and is an avid foodie who enjoys trying out new beers at the microbreweries in town.

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Life Before the Zoo: The Justin Berry Story