There’s no place like home for John S. Bera, who has returned to his alma mater as the new director of campus safety at Ursinus College.
Bera graduated from Ursinus in 2006 with a degree in political science and a minor in international relations. During his time at Ursinus, Bera worked as a Resident Advisor, a campus safety dispatcher, and a member of SERVE, which is now UC EMS. He also volunteered at the Collegeville Fire Company, and was involved in the pre-legal society. Little did Bera know that these experiences would one day prepare him for his new position.
Said Bera of his time at Ursinus, “You don’t really value or understand the value of your education right when you get out. It takes a couple years and then you really realize how it broadens your horizons, how incredible your experiences are here.”
After graduating, Bera continued his work as a fireman in the District of Columbia for a couple of years, during which time he married his wife, an Ursinus graduate from the class of 2005. As a fireman Bera received few health benefits and since he and his wife wanted children, Bera decided to take a job with the Haverford Township paramedic department. There he worked in emergency management and planning. After the birth of his first child, Bera became a stay- at-home dad for several years. During this time, he worked as a part-time fireman, got his master’s in emergency management, and started his own consulting business.
“And then I saw this job come up, so I put in for it to see if I could try to come home,” said Bera.
Sophy Gamber, the senior associate in the Campus Safety Office and a long-time dispatcher, acted as a student representative on the selection committee for the new director of campus safety.
According to Gamber, “The search committee chose to bring John on the team because he demonstrated a true dedication to cultivating and caring for the Ursinus family . . . The search committee was also really invested in hiring someone with a demonstrated commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equality. The Campus Safety Office knows that students need someone who is truly dedicated to these core values . . . Right off the bat, John spoke to these values and offered concrete ideas for promoting initiatives promoting inclusion and equality from within the Campus Safety Office.”
Bera is excited to have opportunities to make a difference behind the scenes, from sitting on the Safety Committee to working with the Homecoming Committee.
Said Bera, “My wife and I are Disney people, so I guess you could say behind the magic . . . I just want to interact and impart a little knowledge, and hopefully experience some really great people.”
Despite his enthusiasm for the new job, Bera admits there is a bit of an adjustment period.
“It’s been an interesting transition, and it’s a welcome transition . . . but the biggest hurdle . . . I went from being a fireman to being a stay-at-home dad to running my own business and being solo to coming and having a staff and being in an office every day. You know, it was just a transition from my children also, because I have two children; it was a big change to go from seeing them every day and spending the day with them,” said Bera.
Amanda Otto, a senior at Ursinus who works as a campus safety dispatcher and was also a part of the selection process, said, “I think he’s doing pretty well for being thrown into it. His position has a ton of responsibilities and he’s handling them well. And when situations come up I think he’s very professional in his crisis management.”
“I truly admire the way John approaches the challenge of learning the ropes. He approaches this transition with a lot of goofy good humor and so much energy,” said Gamber, who greatly admires his killer dad jokes and puns.
Bera appreciates the learning curve his own history at Ursinus has given him while adjusting to the new position. Said Bera, he has the advantage “of knowing exactly where Thomas Hall [is], or knowing where Reimert [is] or 201 9th Ave.”
Despite the fact that his years as a student has given him an advantage over other new employees, Bera is currently still taking an “observe-and-report” approach to the job.
“I want to see how things are going as far as how the semester works and how the officer scheduling is working, and how everybody is interacting with the students, and get positive, hopefully positive, feedback from the students, so I can begin to make some modifications, if there’s things that need to be changed,” said Bera.
According to Bera, his number one priority is “to make sure the student body understands that we’re here not only for the physical safety of the campus but their emotional safety as well.”
Bera is very focused on the idea of an open-door policy, and wants to “encourage everybody to sit down and chat with the safety officers when they see them.”
“If you need to chat, if you have a concern, I want you to bring it to me. If you don’t want to bring it to me in person, send an email. If you ask me to keep it confident[ial] and you have a concern, I can do my best to address it,” said Bera.
According to Otto, this goal is on its way to being met. “I think my fave[orite] aspect of him is that he’s open to having conversations with students regarding problems—we feel more like actual adults than reprimanded children . . . He’s listening to the dispatchers and the officers and trying to accommodate our needs or suggestions.”
Said Bera, “I want to ensure that everybody feels safe when they’re sitting in class, when they’re traveling to and from class, when they’re sitting and living in their dorms, because that’s your house, and I want to make sure that [students] overall feel as though they’re physically and emotionally safe here on our sixteen-acre home.”