Communication professor dies suddenly at 36

DR. SUZANNE BERG was an active member of student organizations, including the Black Student Union and Kaleidoscope. Courtesy photo, Newman Advancement

Friends and family of Suzanne Berg gathered alongside the Newman community Wednesday afternoon in St. John’s Chapel for a memorial service held in her honor.

Berg, an assistant professor of communication, died unexpectedly Tuesday night.

She was 36 years old and is survived by her husband, Bill, and her two young children, William and Lorelei.

Colleagues of Berg spoke at the memorial service, as well as Provost Kimberly McDowall Long and SGA President Vivian Hoang.

“She was one of the most straightforward and outgoing professors I have ever had,” Hoang said. “She was never afraid to be herself. She instilled confidence in me, helped me gain my voice and asked me to use it for a purpose.”

Berg had been teaching at Newman since 2013, after finishing her doctorate in media and communication at Bowling Green State University.

In her time at Newman, Berg served on the Executive Committee and Exceptions Committee of faculty senate, chaired the Professional Development Committee and was active in multiple student organizations including the Black Student Union and Kaleidoscope.

“Dr. Berg was a strong, passionate voice on campus who advocated for several different groups of students such as ethnic minorities or the LGBTQ,” Hoang said. “She cared so deeply, it was inspiring.”

Audrey Hane, professor of communication, said she knew she was fortunate to have the opportunity to work alongside Berg.

“The passing of Suzanne is a huge loss for the communication department,” she said. “As a tireless student advocate, she will be missed inside and outside of the classroom.”

Berg was known for her unique style and fierce presence around campus, and Hane said these things will be dearly missed.

“Her ever-changing hair styles, artistic makeup design and signature fashion choices were an outward sign of her best inner traits: her boldness; her spunk; her ability to not take herself too seriously and her confidence and commitment to be and show herself,” Hane said.  

Gabriella Rizzi, a senior communication major who had taken multiple classes from Berg, said she made learning engaging and fun.

“She was more than just a professor. She was like a coach,” Rizzi said. “She pushed you to be a better writer and individual.”

The administration and communication faculty are working with students who were enrolled in one of Berg’s four courses this semester on an individual basis to ensure their academic needs are met, McDowall Long said.

Assistant Dean of Adult Studies Teresa Wilkerson will be taking over two of the courses, and students in the other two have been given a range of options, from continuing the course with another professor to dropping or substituting another course in its place.

Though there is no formal deadline for this process, students were encouraging to decide by Friday if they were going to drop their course, switch to a different one or keep their schedule the same provided a faculty member could take it over.

Students who were advisees of Berg have been assigned a new faculty advisor, McDowall Long said.

Sports communication majors will now be advised by Wilkerson and all other communication majors will be advised by Hane.

This week, administration, student support service faculty and communication faculty will meet with each class Berg was teaching to go over their academic options and ensure they have access to counseling services. 

Any student needing to use counseling services can contact Coordinator of Early Intervention and Testing Services Debbie Haslam at 316-942-4291 ext. 2319. Newman students receive six free counseling sessions a semester.

McDowell Long said, though the university is reeling from the loss, it is important to remember the best parts of Berg.

“She was a force for positive change in the world, and we are all better for having known her,” she said.

This story first appeared in the February 8, 2018 issue of The Vantage.