Ukrainian transplant and pageant titleholder brings passion for mathematics to RCBC
Wednesday, Feb 09, 2022

Olga Berry

For as long as she can remember, Olga Berry has had a penchant for mathematics. Her father, a remarkable mathematician, taught her through ancient math tasks – a form of intellectual games. 

“I remember pleading with him that I wanted to play sports like all the other kids, to which he replied: ‘You can play chess – the mind sport.’ Since then, I have loved to play chess and still do with family and friends,” Berry shared. 

Born and raised in Kyiv, Ukraine, she studied and taught mathematics in her home country before coming to the United States in 2000. 

“Shortly after moving to this country, I opened my own tutoring office, where I teach Russian and Ukrainian,” Berry said. “When I came to the United States, I was sure that I knew English; however, I soon realized that that was not entirely accurate. In California, I attended English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at the local community college. Since then, I fell in love with the institution of community colleges.”

This love for community colleges brought Berry to Rowan College at Burlington County in 2015 as an adjunct math instructor teaching Algebra and Precalculus. 

“I greatly enjoy being at RCBC,” Berry said. “Math is not the easiest or the most favorite subject for many students; however, there was a very touching moment last semester. Due to COVID-19, many students were missing classes due to illnesses. I knew that I had to do something different to make sure those students did not fall behind, and so I spent additional individual time with them virtually. It helped me get to know them better and see how they really felt about math. On the last day of the semester, before the final, I came to class and was amazed to see that my students brought coffee, doughnuts and a cake for me as a surprise! I was very touched and happy.” 

When asked about the importance of community colleges, Berry posited that in her experience, she feels they present great opportunities for immigrants and students on temporary visas. 

“Whatever the case, community colleges are a great opportunity for these individuals to receive affordable education as they take their first steps in America,” Berry said. “It is likewise important to be able to have an affordable opportunity to improve English language skills and obtain employment. My task is to make sure that as many of these students as possible, who have come to our country for various reasons, learn about this opportunity. It may sound trivial to us Americans, but this opportunity is not available in all countries of the world, and we need to expand its benefits. People who graduate with an associate degree are rewarded in the labor market. Community colleges provide not just a path to a career but can also provide a path to more advanced degrees.”

What many of her students and colleagues may not know about Berry is that she has been involved in pageantry since 2003, as both a mom and a contestant. Her daughter, Vladyslava Levchenko earned Miss New Jersey Junior National Sweetheart 2004, Miss New Jersey Junior National Teenager 2006 and Miss New Jersey National Teenager 2008.

“During those years, I met many incredible women who inspired me in so many ways,” Berry said. “They were wives, mothers and working women all at the same time. They were involved in community service and helped others in so many ways. Meeting some of them changed my life and inspired me to participate in pageants myself. My first title was Mrs. Camden County 2011 in the Mrs. New Jersey United States organization. My platform was ‘America – a country of opportunities.’ This platform summed up my life experience and the message I wanted people to hear when they met me – especially students just starting out their professional and personal lives and not always certain about all the opportunities available to them.”

Today, Berry is the titleholder in the New Jersey International Pageant System, a pageant for accomplished and hard-working married women of New Jersey with an emphasis on community service and platform achievements. She looks forward to speaking about her experiences in the United States and discussing the many opportunities and benefits of community colleges. During her free time, Berry enjoys walking her three-year-old yellow lab, cooking, traveling, modeling and writing poetry. She maintains a book of assembled poems in her native language which she sometimes gifts to close family and friends.