For James Berry, a second-year student at the School of Medicine, the next step in his naval career meant coming home to land-locked Missouri.

“I used to do a lot of mountain climbing, but while I was deployed with the Navy on a ship, I couldn’t do much of that,” James says, chuckling. “So I took up surfing—haven’t done much of that lately, either.”

Though some of his outdoor hobbies aren’t quite accessible in St. Louis, James is kept busy by his rigorous medical school curriculum and his responsibilities as a husband and father of two. “I have different obligations than many of my classmates as a father in my 30s,” James acknowledges. “That’s a huge part of why I chose WashU.” Proximity to his family, the school’s world-class education and research opportunities, and a generous financial aid package combined to make WashU, according to James, “the perfect fit.”

James and Resa Berry with their daughter, Serena. The Berrys welcomed a second daughter, Erika, in October.

A native of Jefferson City, James earned an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering from Vanderbilt University. He loved his coursework but wasn’t keen on settling into a traditional 9-5 job after graduation. “I realized I wanted to see the world, and do something I found really meaningful,” James says. A friend told him about an area of the U.S. Navy where he could apply his technical skills, and he spoke with a recruiter. Because he was a college graduate, James entered the military as an officer, immediately stepping into a leadership role.

James was first stationed on a destroyer in Japan for two years, where he earned his surface warfare qualification and developed expertise in sonar and other advanced technologies. He then served as a propulsion officer and led a team of engineering sailors on a littoral combat ship in San Diego. As he considered the next phase of his career, he took a shore duty assignment as an engineering inspector for the Navy. 

James was incredibly thoughtful about his next steps. “I didn’t want to leave the military—I love the culture and the people. But I found myself wanting to do something more hands-on that related to my undergraduate education.” He felt most fulfilled when interacting with and helping sailors, “using tangible skills to impact people’s lives.” James began shadowing Navy doctors and decided to apply to medical school.

I won’t be coming out of school with crushing debt. My scholarship support has really alleviated a lot of burdens and stress, and allowed me to focus on school and my family instead of finances,

James Berry

James knew WashU’s reputation and loved the thought of his children growing up near his parents. His financial aid package sealed the deal. “Originally, WashU offered me need-based scholarships, and I planned to use my G.I. Bill funding to cover the remaining costs of medical school. Then, Dean Kratz called me personally and shared that they could offer me a merit-based scholarship as well. Now I can transfer my G.I. Bill to my daughter for her college education in the future.”

James (right) on the flight deck of USS CORONADO with one of his sailors.

Educational debt is daunting for all medical students, but especially for students like James who are supporting their families. “I won’t be coming out of school with crushing debt. My scholarship support has really alleviated a lot of burdens and stress, and allowed me to focus on school and my family instead of finances,” he says.

James received scholarship support from Vanderbilt, and had enjoyed getting to know the family who established his scholarship. When he learned that he was awarded the Thomas W. and Elizabeth J. Rucker Scholarship in Medicine at WashU, he hoped to make a similar connection to express his gratitude.

“I found out that Eugenia Rucker established my scholarship in honor of her parents through her estate in 1976; she’s deceased, and has no living family members associated with WashU,” James explains. “I did a little research and found out that she was buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery in North St. Louis.”

During the spring break of his first year of medical school, James visited Eugenia Rucker’s gravesite with his oldest daughter, who was two years old at the time. Together, they left Eugenia flowers and a thank-you note.

“Two things I value highly are connecting with others and saying thank you for the gifts we are given. The scholarship that Eugenia established has not only changed my life—it is a gift to my future patients and to my family. One person’s generosity has changed many lives,” James says.

Your gift of any amount in support of School of Medicine scholarships will also help change many lives. Make Way: Our Student Initiative will help future WashU students pursue careers in healthcare and research, and their work will improve the quality of life for others locally and globally.

Learn more about Make Way: Our Student Initiative