Jacob “Jake” Berge never felt like he was cut out for college. Maybe after high school, he would train to be a firefighter or a member of the Coast Guard, he thought.
Then he saw his older brother, thriving in his senior year at Williamson, fielding multiple job offers. That made him realize that learning a trade at the nontraditional college would make him highly employable; having a vocation, he’d be able to support himself while training to be a firefighter.
As a senior in Machine Tool Technology, Williamson gave him structure, mentorship, and an opportunity for discovery of his inner and outer worlds. He now has direction, a plan and the conviction and confidence to pursue his calling.
Homeschooled in rural Southern New Jersey, Jake had few opportunities to interact with others. His father, a full-time nurse practitioner and part-time farmer, and his mother, his homeschool teacher, recognized the risk of social isolation and enrolled him by the ninth grade in a small Christian high school. There, he gravitated toward new friends and teachers. He also got his EMT certification, increasing his chances of becoming a firefighter.
Jake applied to Williamson while also preparing to enlist in Coast Guard. When Williamson accepted him into the Machine Tool Technology program, he put his military plans aside.
Given his background, Jake found adjusting to Williamson’s academic and social life a challenge. “Going to church and the occasional trip to the grocery store back home, I wasn’t exposed to too many people.”
Despite his uneasiness, Jake started making friends. Drawn to like-minded people, he found other homeschoolers and students who shared his beliefs and opinions. Remarkably, his senior mentor was a former homeschooler, and the two have remained friends.
“I still tend to keep to myself most of the time. I’m a bit of an introvert,” Jake says. “But I can’t handle being alone for too long. I know I need people in my life.”
One of those people was Math and Science Instructor Edward Gawlas. “Jake would come in during lunch hours. We would just sit and talk about politics or videos, and respect each other’s opinion. We could have an argument, and at the end of the day, we’d shake hands and walk into class with no negativity.”
Mr. Gawlas says Jake is reserved, but not quiet, and has a strong moral compass. “If it comes down to what he thinks is right or wrong, he’ll stand up for that.”
As Jake got used to the numerous and diverse people around him, he delved more into his faith. He joined the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Dale Plummer, Director of Athletic Services, runs the campus program that conducts weekly Bible study for athletes.
“Mr. Plummer would hand out articles written by professional athletes for us to read and talk about,” Jake says. “I saw how athletes from minor and major professional leagues got to live out their faith.”
Jake says he has “definitely matured here at Williamson. Especially when it comes to listening to other people’s viewpoints. I’m more receptive to them.”
In addition to FCA, Jake found another avenue to further explore his faith. He sought counsel from Williamson’s new Assistant Chaplain, Sean Howat. A classmate, who had been meeting with Mr. Howat, referred him. Since last October, Jake has been meeting one on one with Mr. Howat for Bible study and general mentorship.
“He’s a great young man who deepened in his sense of who he is,” says Mr. Howat. “I saw an increase in Jake’s confidence, and a decrease in his anxiety about heading into the future.”
Mr. Howatt recognizes in Jake the things he most respects – conviction and passion. “He’s also deepened in his strong understanding of what he’s called to do in this world,” he says. He sees Jake informally mentor other students. “He has a heart for those things. Jake recognizes his gifts and talents and wants to serve and mentor others.
“It’s good to see another man entering the world who takes seriously his responsibility to his family, faith, community, and future.”
In addition to the opportunity he’s had to work on his faith, Jake has been learning and working in a trade that’s been grounding and rewarding for him.
“I have found a true passion for working with my hands and for crafting all sorts of things out of metal and other materials.” Jake has worked for several manufacturing and automation companies, including Acero Precision, a manufacturer of medical implants. He interned with Acero Precision last summer, and has continued to work for them every weekend.
After graduation, he’ll work for Southco, a designer and manufacturer of engineered access solutions. Located nearby, it will give him more time with family, and to plan next steps with his fiancé.
“I can honestly say I would not be where I am now without Williamson.” For example, he originally wanted to join the military. Williamson gave him time to reconsider his decision. He determined it wasn’t the right path for him. However, he remains clear-eyed and committed to his goal of becoming a firefighter.
Margaret Kingham, Director of Career Services, has seen several students graduate from Williamson and go on to become firefighters. She’s seen them volunteer first and then decide if it’s what they want to do.
“I don’t think he’s going to give up his calling, but he’ll defer it for a bit until he saves enough money so he can sustain himself while he’s in firefighter school. He’s getting very practical about it.”
“I never knew how ambitious I was,” says Jake. “I want to grow. I want to learn. I want to achieve things.”
Your support makes it possible for students like Jacob to attend Williamson College of the Trades with a full scholarship that covers tuition, room, and board. You can help to prepare the next generation of Williamson Men to be respected leaders and productive members of society by Making a Gift Today.