Alumna Fills Difficult But Important Role as a Sexual Assault Services Specialist

Recent graduate, Maria Berry (M.Ed., 2016), works full-time as a Sexual Assault Services Specialist in Yreka, California. Her work is often difficult. She deals on a daily basis with a very raw and ugly side of society, but she also takes great satisfaction in making her community a safer, better place to live.

A major part of Ms. Berry’s job is what she calls “prevention education.” She visits public schools, working mostly with children in their formative years to create awareness regarding inappropriate behavior in the home and what young students can do to escape such abuse.  As a teacher, there are other benefits that she brings to her profession.

“I’m always trying to implement fun things when working with young sexual-assault victims,” the mother of seven explained. For example, she has learned to work with puppets to broach taboo subjects and downplay the trauma young people have experienced as she seeks important testimony that may be used as evidence.

Ms. Berry responds to emergency phone calls and goes to the hospital to meet the victims and their families. “I often work with them in an educational role, sometimes trying to teach them that it isn’t their fault,” she added. “Sometimes, I have to teach children to communicate about issues that are very difficult to talk about.”

The new alum has lived in Yreka for almost ten years now.  It is the seat for Siskiyou County, located within view of Mt. Shasta in the northern most portion of the state.  It’s a very rural location. Ms. Berry believes she is making her county and community a better place through her efforts, and being bilingual, she also provides bilingual services to an area that is about ten percent Hispanic.

How did she balance being a mother, a full-time professional, and a full-time student? “It was hard,” she admitted. “But, by making the time to study and pursuing my master’s degree while working, I was teaching my kids that anything is possible. There are no limits when you want to better yourself.”

Ms. Berry chose National University when a colleague of her husband’s who works with the California Department of Education recommended it as having one of the best schools of education in the state. “I love National University,” she said. “I had a great experience in my program and learned a lot, and now I’m applying the lessons I learned almost every day, in a way that contributes to the place where I live.”