Senior Berit Reisenauer honored for community service

By John Baker Brown Jr. | Division of Campus Life | Nov. 26, 2014

Throughout her childhood, Berit Reisenauer was encouraged to embrace a philosophy that she now sees expressed in the Division of Campus Life's key concept for November: "Live what you learn; learn what you live." Today, as an Emory graduating senior, she continues to feed her inquiring mind by integrating learning in the classroom with learning in the communities where she lives, and is being honored with the Dean's Definer of the Month award.

"Curiosity makes me go," Reisenauer says. "I like to explore areas that we are often uncomfortable exploring." With majors in political science and religion, she attributes her motivating curiosity to her parents' nurturing example and the rich social diversity of her childhood experience.

Reisenauer's mother is a physician, her father a psychologist, and both are members of the Catholic Church, with lifelong commitments to intellectual inquiry, self-reflection and service to others — qualities they fostered in their two daughters.

In her hometown of Everett, Washington, near Seattle, Reisenauer attended a middle school in which 63 percent of the students qualified for free or reduced-cost lunches, and she graduated from a high school in which more than two-dozen languages were spoken. As a teenager, she was actively engaged with a nondenominational youth group and held extensive conversations with representatives of many religious traditions before deciding to become a confirmed Catholic.

Since enrolling at Emory in 2011, Reisenauer has continued to express her commitment to "live what you learn; learn what you live" through a range of engagements informed by self-reflection and religious conviction, as well as the tradition of intellectual inquiry cultivated in her coursework. Her volunteer roles have included task force chair with the Student Government Association, student ambassador and tour guide, and university chorus member, among others.

Reisenauer spent two summers as a volunteer community outreach intern in Everett, where she independently planned and implemented a community outreach project in a transitional low-income neighborhood, identified opportunities for small business development, and managed a range of other responsibilities.

This past summer, the Emory senior served as a human rights intern with The Carter Center, where she provided support for the new Scholars in Action initiative, worked with leaders and scholars in religious academia, and designed and implemented a new digital partners mapping resource.

'When I slow down, I learn the most'

Although Reisenauer says such engagements have proven extremely valuable, she maintains that her most significant "learn what you live; live what you learn" experiences have occurred with a pair of Emory organizations — the Inter-Religious Council and Residence Life & Housing.

The council's mission, as its website states, is "to foster inter-religious conversation and create a safe space for affirming one's own tradition while understanding the religious practices and beliefs of others." According to Reisenauer, the council gave her that gift and much more in the nearly three years of her "amazing experience" as a mentor and mentee.

After an "excruciatingly lonely" freshman year, Reisenauer volunteered as a resident and sophomore adviser, sharing with other students her own Emory experience. "Mentoring demanded much more of my self," she says. "I had to learn to trust, to be vulnerable and forthcoming."

With graduation on her May calendar, Reisenauer considers the adviser role as her most profound Emory experience. "It was the first time I could feel myself growing at Emory," she recalls. "Without it, I would be a completely different person. My residents have taught me so much."

What advice does Reisenauer offer to other students who want to optimize the synergy of their living and learning experiences at Emory?

"Slow down," she says. "When I slow down, I learn the most."

Reisenauer admits she works hard to follow that advice herself, which is why she plans to take a year off to work, probably in the nonprofit arena, after graduating from Emory — and before pursuing graduate studies leading to a PhD in religion.