In the last four decades since Kathy T. Berry graduated from Georgia State University, the campus has radically changed in appearance.

The unique educational opportunities, however, remain unchanged.

“Being at a university in the city of Atlanta, covering the election of a mayor or governor, that was big,” said Berry, who received a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1972 and an MBA in 1986.  She now serves on the GSU Foundation Board of Trustees.

“Georgia State changed a lot about what I thought, and what I thought I could do and what the world could be like. My education expanded my horizons and helped me change the course of my life.”

Berry received GSU’s Distinguished Alumni Service Award on Oct. 21 during homecoming weekend (slideshow).

Another honoree was Carolyn Curry (M.Ed. 1979, Ph.D. 1987), who serves on the College of Arts and Sciences advisory board and as a Library Ambassador. Curry, the wife of Panther Football Coach Bill Curry, is founder and director of Women Alone Together, a nonprofit that focuses on supporting older women. She received the Distinguished Alumni Community Service Award.

For Berry, the award is rooted in a friendship with a well-known GSU educator, Mrs. Pickett Riggs, who taught quantitative methods at GSU. Berry was a student at Columbia High School in DeKalb County with Riggs’ daughter, and attended the same church as the Riggs family.

“Go downtown, and you will see that it [GSU]is a great place to get an education,” Berry recalled her saying.

As the middle of five children, Berry arrived at GSU with an independent spirit, and found a place where that spirit could flourish.

“For most of us the routine was to get to campus early in the morning, go to the ‘B&D’ cafeteria in the student center – the ‘Bite and Die,’ we all called it – and after breakfast and classes, we spread out all over the city and went to work,” she said.

Like many GSU students today, Berry worked while studying. Sometimes she held down three jobs out of financial necessity because her family was also supporting her siblings at the University of Georgia and Emory University.

To balance academics and work, she took night and summer classes. Berry volunteered as freshman orientation counselor and assistant editor of the Signal, the campus newspaper.

“At least once a year, we could go out with local news reporters and cover beats,” she said. “Toward the end of college, I took an accounting class and liked it, and moved over to the business side of newspapers.”

A few months after graduation, Berry joined the Georgia Press Association. She served for two decades – 15 of those years as its executive director.

“I was 32 years old and heading one of the top associations in the state. When I needed to advance my skills as a businesswoman, the MBA program was phenomenal,” she said of her return for a second GSU degree. “My education at Georgia State afforded me a lot of opportunities, and I feel very loyal and committed and tied there because of that.”

In 2006, Berry set up the Mary Kathleen Berry Scholarship Endowment, which supports a five-year program leading to joint degrees: a B.A. in a modern language (such as French, Spanish or German) from the College of Arts and Sciences and master’s in international business through the J. Mack Robinson College of Business.

Her award comes from the GSU Alumni Association, which in 2007 began giving out scholarships in honor of the educator who influenced Berry and many others. The Pickett Riggs Scholarship is awarded each year to a graduate and/or undergraduate student in the Robinson College who exemplifies Riggs’ values of high scholastic achievement, leadership abilities and commitment to GSU.

“It’s a great honor,” Berry said of the Distinguished Alumni Service Award. “Georgia State is really coming into its own. It’s always been a force, but now it’s starting to get recognition. It appeals to a broad spectrum of people, and that’s very important for the future of the state. It’s also still affordable.

“I’ve always felt that education is a game changer, and it certainly was for me.”

Another Distinguished Alumni Community Service Award went to Scott Slade (B.A. 1989), a familiar voice at WSB Radio since 1984, where he has worked as a producer, show host and helicopter traffic reporter.

The GSU Distinguished Alumni Achievement Awards went to David A. Dodd (B.S. 1971, M.S. 1977), the CEO and co-founder of VaxyGen Holdings, and Rhonda Scott, (Ph. D. 1997), the Chief Nursing Officer and Senior Vice President of Patient Care Services at Grady Health System.

—By Michelle Hiskey; Contact Kim Cretors, (404) 413-3424