Journey Berry hopes to make the field more diverse
Journey Berry grew up immersed in the performing arts, playing bass and mulling a career as a jazz musician.
She never dreamed she would find her calling amid the glaciers and icy fjords of Alaska.
But through a combination of intellectual curiosity and what at times seemed like pure serendipity, this Rutgers University–New Brunswick student discovered she had a passion for glaciology, the study of ice in the environment. It all began when she was 15, with a one-off, local kayaking venture with her mom in which they happened to meet a noted scientist. That encounter led to Berry taking a big leap the following year, going off on an expedition with women and girls to Bear Glacier Lagoon in Alaska. Now a senior, she’s doing research on the impact of climate change on that region while completing a double major in geology and geography in the School of Arts and Sciences.
At every turn, Berry said she encountered people who provided the inspiration, and helped her figure out what to do next.
“I had never even been kayaking before,” she said of that fateful first trip. “But beginning right then and there, I met people who quite literally changed my life.”
She intends to do the same for others. Berry is keenly aware that she, as a Black woman, is a rarity in geosciences. She wants to help bring change.
“The lack of Black and Latino students in geology and geography affects how people from the outside world see these fields,” she says. “I am hoping as I progress in my career, I can be that person that a high school or college student of color can look up to and realize that they too have a chance in this field.”
Faculty members say Berry is poised to change the field.
“Her energy and her potential to reach the next generation of scientists is inspiring to me,” says Lauren Neitzke Adamo, a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, and director of the Rutgers Geology Museum where Berry is a student employee and conducts public tours. “She is excelling in all these things, and already translating her experiences and knowledge to reach younger people.”
Berry grew up in the Bergen County community of Teaneck, raised by parents who are musicians and artists. She plays guitar and bass, taking inspiration from Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, and Esperanza Spalding. She was 15 when she and her mom decided to try kayaking the Hackensack River. They struck up a conversation with veteran science educator Michael J. Passow, who invited Berry to attend public science workshops at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, NY, a 20-minute drive from her home.
She soon began attending the Saturday sessions in oceanography, geology, paleontology, enjoying the friendly mix of students and teachers.
“I was pretty much hooked,” Berry says said. “There were a lot of geology teachers, and I was able to talk with them about their work on a casual level.”
She also learned about a non-profit group, Inspiring Girls Expeditions, that leads epic summer trips for high school girls that combine science, art, and backcountry travel.
So, at the age of 16, Berry became the youngest girl to participate in the organization’s Girls in Icy Fjords program, flying out to Anchorage for a sea kayaking expedition around the Kenai Fjords National Park in south central Alaska. Accompanied by four adult instructors, Berry and eight other girls spent two momentous weeks in the frozen landscape, kayaking Bear Glacier Lagoon, watching icebergs break off from the glacier, and learning how to observe, study, and create art from the environment around them.
“It was a shock—there I was on the other side of the continent,” Berry said. “Everything I had seen in textbooks and maps are suddenly right before my eyes.
“It was a life changing moment. Definitely.”
Indeed, after returning home, she landed an internship at the observatory’s polar geophysics group and then headed off to Rutgers, where in addition to her double major she has a minor in marine science. She is also doing research with her mentor from Inspiring Girls, Erin Pettit, a glaciologist at Oregon State University who is studying the retreat of Bear Glacier due to climate change.
One of the hallmarks of her Rutgers geoscience experience is the presence of women mentors, including Adamo, geography professor Åsa Rennermalm, and graduate student Julie Vastano, studying paleontology in Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences
“There are definitely strong women in the departments here that I look up to and have been privileged to work with,” Berry said.
She is currently deciding on a plan for graduate studies. Her focus is on glaciology, but she says the entire array of earth sciences is compelling to her.
“I think it’s the idea that there is always something new to discover,” she says. “There is so much about our planet that we have not discovered yet, whether it is below the ocean, high up in the mountains or among barren landscapes.”
Meanwhile, in the summer of 2022, Berry came full circle. She served as one of the adult instructors and guides for Girls in Icy Fjords, leading a group of girls through the two-week adventure in Alaska similar to what she experienced in 2017.
“I was so happy to do that,” she said. “To see a group of girls experience that joy and that shock—it’s just beyond words.”