Donna Berkner didn’t have far to go to join the faculty at Southwestern. In fact, she and her husband, Henry, have been married for 38 years and lived that entire time in the city of Keene. Today they have two grown children, daughter Bree and son Dayne.
Now an associate professor in the department of education, Berkner started off her career as a dental hygienist. When she decided that education was more to her liking, she returned to school and received her degree in education from Southwestern in 1992.
“I was a later bloomer,” she says. “God called me as an adult, but his timing is still perfect. Teaching was the career he wanted for me, and it happened when it was supposed to happen.”
For the next 17 years, Berkner taught at Keene Adventist Elementary School, the first three years with the first grade, six years with the eighth grade, and the final eight years as principal. Berkner also went on to receive graduate training, earning her Ed.D. in educational leadership from the University of Phoenix in 2012.
“I always had a heart for Adventist education,” she says. Her doctoral dissertation, “Attitudes of Seventh-day Adventist Teachers Toward Inclusion in the Classroom” focuses on making every student a part of that class’ learning environment.
Her new job calls for her to emphasize educational leadership. This semester she teaches arts and drama, math for the elementary school, social studies for the elementary school, as well as supervises two student teachers.
Her greatest reward as a teacher is seeing her former students be a success as adults. She recounts how recently she was visiting someone in the hospital, only to discover that one of the nurses there had been an eighth-grade student of hers. Another former student, Chloe Northrup, is now working on her Ph.D. at the University of North Texas.
“It’s such a blessing to be able to pray with my students,” she says. “When I first started teaching, three of my students died in a car accident. It meant a lot to be able to have the pastoral staff come in and visit the students. And we all prayed together.”
Her training, education and experience gives her a fresh perspective that she is eager to share with education students. “I tell students, ‘Don’t do this degree just because of June and July,’” she says. “It has to be a calling, what God puts in your heart.”