But at 47, for Berge, it was time for a change. She boldly resolved to finish her bachelor's degree and enrolled in Bastyr University's health psychology program. As a graduate, she now has an ability to express her love of children in a professional capacity. She has no regrets about the timing, she says, because, "You can't get back your time with your kids."
It's not that she didn't think about doing other things while her children were young. In the late 1980s, she heard about Bastyr University and considered becoming a naturopathic doctor. But since her children were still growing up and she didn't want to miss out on seeing them play sports and take part in other activities, she put that idea on hold.
Berge’s dedication to children is something she came by naturally. As the oldest of five children, she grew up babysitting. When she was 13, her mom had twins. Luckily, she was seemingly born to play the role of assistant mother. When she became a parent herself, she embraced that role even more. "I loved having kids and raising them," she says, "and they've been good for me. I am thankful for the opportunity to have been involved in their lives when they were young."
During those years, Berge found opportunities to contribute her caretaking skills at organizations as well, and inadvertently built up her professional resume. She volunteered in the school district and worked as a paraeducator for 12 years, 10 of which were spent working in the district's developmental preschool program.
When her kids were older, she decided to finish her associate's degree at Olympic College in her home town of Bremerton, Washington. As she was working on her degree, she thought about going on to pursue medical studies, and her advisor suggested a psychology degree. Berge liked this idea and considered attending the University of Washington, until her work supervisor asked if she had thought about Bastyr.
Berge was stunned. "It was like a light went on," she says. "I thought, 'Oh, my gosh, I'd forgotten all about Bastyr!'" Excited by this idea, she looked up Bastyr again and discovered the pre-medical track in the health psychology program, and concluded it was exactly what she wanted.
She took her oldest son's advice and quit full-time work when she entered school. She accomplished this by using some of the profits from her real estate investments and supplementing those with a work-study position as Bastyr's speaker's bureau coordinator. "I got lucky getting such a great job," she says, as it allowed her to balance work and school.
The choice to work only part-time turned out to be a wise move. School involved a significant amount of her time and becoming a student was an adjustment. "School is a whole different mindset," she explains. "Your brain is always in class, always on your schoolwork, even when you are trying to rest."
The curriculum included a great deal of science, since Berge chose the pre-medical track of the health psychology program. She enjoyed the science classes, and fortunately the faculty was very helpful. "The instructors were great and the psychology department is wonderful," she says. "Going from a community college to a university could be daunting, but because of the size of the classes and the way it's set up, you feel like you already have connections and people you can turn to. The faculty members feel really accessible, even more so than at a community college."
In her senior year, Berge chose to complete a community practicum at the Good Samaritan Children's Therapy Unit, where she worked with therapists to provide care for the children.
Because of her experience in the health psychology program, Berge believes she has the confidence to tackle any new challenge. "I feel that I'm completely capable of learning new things in new situations quickly and effectively," she says. At nearly 50, she feels like her dreams are coming true. A new chapter of her life is beginning, and she has Bastyr to thank for that.Interviewed August 2007