Feb. 11, 2010
By MOISEKAPENDA BOWER
John Berens can't resist open doors, especially if he senses an opportunity to expand the boundaries of his community involvement.
His parents, Chris and Peggy, opened those doors with such frequency during his childhood that it became second nature for Berens to inquisitively pursue without pause. That pattern of behavior continued throughout high school and, following an unnecessarily cautious approach to the fall semester of his freshman year, continued at Rice, where Berens commits to every endeavor that develops his character.
"I'm a very opportunity-driven person, and that's why I really have liked Rice," Berens said. "The opportunity to join the track team, that wouldn't be a possibility at most schools. It's a D-1 athletic program and I had never considered going to a school and just whimsically joining that team. That's an amazing opportunity. I guess my experience here has been going through those doors that have been opened for me, and doors that I never even thought would open, especially the bigger ones."
The first door was track and field, where Berens specializes in the jumps. As a high school senior, Berens had resigned himself that his track career would not continue collegiately. Rice assistant track coach Casey Thom extended Berens an invitation to walk on to the team, but Berens spent his first semester at Rice playing intramural basketball and working on the scout team for the women's basketball program.
After some coercion from several members of the track team, Berens participated in a meet during the indoor season of his freshman year. He was hooked, and he quickly walked through that door of opportunity.
More doors would open, including an opportunity to coordinate the creation of the Rice Health Advisors, a group that provides mental health wellness via peer modeling, mentoring and education. Berens went on to serve as a Spanish-English interpreter at Memorial Hermann Hospital, as a peer academic advisor for the track team and Jones College, as an Orientation Week advisor in 2007 and '09, and as an ESL tutor for three years starting in 2007. All of this while earning accolades for his success in the classroom and contributing on the track.
"I just added things as I went when I realized it was something I wanted to be a part of," Berens said. "Other than (serving as the music director at the Catholic Student Center), I really didn't have any set goals in terms of extracurricular (activities)."
The Rice Health Advisors is closest to Beren's heart. An aspiring doctor, he has an innate desire to help those in need of medical attention, whether physical or mental. He spent three summers working as a residential therapist for the Munroe/Meyer Institute at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and his time invested in that capacity served as inspiration behind his helping spearhead the Rice Health Advisors.
"I've always enjoyed being someone who is there for friends. I've always liked being in that listener role," Berens said. "It just so happened that at the end of the (2008-09) year they actually wanted to transform it into a new organization and were looking for someone who could be a part of that. It just so happened that they asked me to be a part of that, and so that was another door that opened and seemed like a really good idea.
"(Rice) really does fit me ideally. I'm lucky to have ended up here."
With his comment to promoting mental and physical health, John Berens is on track toward being one of Tomorrow's Leaders.