On Tuesday morning, the Newman community received the news that Assistant Professor of Communication Suzanne V.L. Berg, Ph.D., had died unexpectedly.
Berg, 36, is survived by her husband, Bill, and her two small children.
Provost Kimberly McDowall Long, Ph.D., sent an email to all students, faculty and staff on Tuesday that read, "Dr. Berg was a vibrant young leader in this community. ... She was known for her ready wit, her constant positive outlook, and her commitment to the education of her students. She was a valued professor, colleague and friend."
On Wednesday, the community banded together for a special prayer service at noon to commemorate the life of Berg. With such a vivacious, passionate and honest personality, she impacted the lives of many at Newman University.
Hoang started by saying she wouldn't be speaking in front of a crowd if it wasn't for Berg's support and guidance as her communications professor.
She said, "She instilled confidence in me, helped me gain my voice, and asked me to use it for a purpose."
Hoang continued, "Dr. Berg was a strong, passionate voice on campus. ... We could have all learned from her to be unabashedly outspoken on what we care about and what we're passionate about and learn to just be human to each other."
Berg was known for her straightforward approach to life; it was said that she wasn't afraid to tell you your work was "crap," but she would be sure to tell you when it was "lovely," too.
Berg's close friend and colleague, Professor of Communications Audrey Hane, Ph.D., said, "She had a magnetic personality."
Long mentioned she had heard Berg being described as "fierce," a word you can't use to describe just anyone. "She cared deeply for social justice, the rights of others and liberal learning," said Long.
University Chaplain Father John Fogliasso spoke to a few of Berg's close friends on campus and came up with three recurring themes from those conversations. First, Berg was overjoyed by her family — being a wife and mother was her greatest accomplishment. Second, the passion she had as an educator was unmatched. Third, was her incredible zeal for serving others, especially those who are marginalized and forgotten.
Berg has been a part of the Newman community since 2013 and has made many friends on campus.
Hane said, "The passing of Suzanne is a huge loss for the communication department. As a tireless student advocate, she will be missed inside and outside of the classroom."
She added, "I admire so many things about Suzanne; her bold style, her direct communication style, her spunk, her wit, her passion for life, her strong sense of self, her unwillingness to apologize for who she was and perhaps most importantly her vocal demand for social justice."
It was obvious how well she connected with her students as many of them filled St. John's chapel for the service.
Junior Amy Emerson, a longtime student and advisee of Berg, said, "I will always remember Dr. Berg's ability to break the ice and make her students feel at home. Her sense of humor, snazzy fashion style and positive attitude always brightened the mood and brought conversation starters with her everywhere she went. Dr. Berg had a special way of connecting with those around her, and my interactions with her have inspired me to incorporate that same type of bright energy she had into my own life."
Senior Miranda Hejny considered Berg not only one of her professors but a friend, too.
"A couple things I'll always remember about Dr. Berg is how she could be honest but always in a constructive way," said Hejny, adding that her bright and open attitude really set her apart. "Her dance moves when she was excited about something are unforgettable."
A theme heard among Bergs friends was how deeply she cared for her students.
"When I would get stressed out," Hejny said, "Dr. Berg would always tell me that she believed if you cried because something was difficult to learn that meant your brain was growing, and that it was OK to cry. She would always follow that up with telling me that I'll be fine and I can do it. Her encouragement and positivity have been one of the greatest gifts I've had at Newman."
Emerson felt Berg, as her professor, advisor and friend, helped to truly change her life. She said Berg helped challenge and motivate her to become a better student and a better person, and took the time to pinpoint her best qualities and let her know she believed in her.
Emerson said, "The fact that Dr. Berg, one of the most intelligent and honest professors I have ever had, noticed my efforts and took the time to share those observations with me changed the way I viewed myself. She brought out a confidence in me that, in many ways, I hadn't had before. Throughout the three classes, multiple office visits, and interviews that I had with her, I left feeling empowered and willing to use the voice I'd been too shy to share for so many years."
Emerson added, "Dr. Berg was an irreplaceable professor and so much more. She will be dearly missed and eternally loved by those who felt her presence in some way."
A Holy Mass was offered for the repose of the soul of Berg on Wednesday evening in St. John's Chapel at Newman University.
A funeral service will be held in St. John's Chapel on Saturday, Feb. 10 at 11:00. The family has asked for those in attendance to wear purple clothing, Suzanne's favorite color. All are welcome and encouraged to attend.
There is a gofundme page for the Berg family for those interested in contributing.
Students, faculty or staff looking for professional support can call Debbie Haslam in Student Support Services at (316) 942-4291 ext., 2319 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to make an appointment.