Students and faculty were reeling Tuesday from news that a popular Newman University professor had died overnight.
Suzanne Berg, 36, was an assistant professor of communications.
“Dr. Berg was a vibrant young leader in this community. She leaves behind her husband and two small children,” wrote Kimberly McDowall Long, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “ 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.”
The university will host a community prayer service at 12:05 p.m. Wednesday in St. John’s Chapel inside Sacred Heart Hall on campus. A mass is scheduled to begin 5:15 p.m.
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The last time Miranda Hejny, a senior in communications, saw her adviser and communication and computer technology instructor was a week ago Monday.
“She seemed like she was feeling fine,” Hejny said. “She was very personable and just a fun person to have. On Wednesday, she sent out an email saying her daughter was sick so she’d be at home with her.”
On Monday morning this week, Dr. Berg sent emails to students in a class, saying “Good morning all, I continue to fight this sinus infection from hell.”
On Tuesday came the news that Dr. Berg had died.
“Everyone is pretty quiet,” Hejny said. “We are really just in shock.”
“All we know is that we got a call this morning from Bill, her husband, who let fellow communications faculty members know she had passed out last night,” said Clark Schafer, director of Newman’s University Relations. “He called 911. She didn’t recover. We don’t know the cause of death.”
Dr. Berg was known for her biting, quick humor and ability to nurture student’s ideas, said Ariana Esparza, a senior in communications. She was involved in several student groups on the campus, including the Black Student Union and Kaleidoscope, according to The Vantage, the college newspaper.
Esparza received a phone call from a friend early Tuesday telling her the news.
“I thought of her (Dr. Berg’s) babies and how she loves and cares for them,” Esparza said. “That’s their mama and I know William was so in love with his mama. I thought about our classes, about how I wanted to learn about a couple of these other things and wanted to send her an email letting her know I was sorry she wasn’t feeling well, and I never did. I am feeling regret about that.”
Esparza talked about the teacher who had a knitted pink "pussy hat" on her desk in her office and how Dr. Berg did not tolerate prejudice.
“She was so dedicated as a professor,” Esparza said. “It was really important for her to get a doctorate and she’d always talk about women empowerment. She was never afraid to tell me when my work was crap. But when I did something fantastic, she’d use the word lovely. That’s when I knew I had done a good job. She found so much beauty in the written word.
“She was willing to live her life out loud and be vocal about things she was passionate about. She believed in equality for all. She knew she was a straight, white woman who had to fight for others that might not be so lucky.
“I will miss her voice.”
Dr. Berg was born Feb. 17, 1981, and had been at Newman since 2013. Before coming to Wichita, she had been in Mankato, Minn.; Bowling Green, Ohio; and La Crosse, Wis. She received her doctorate in media and communication from Bowling Green. She is survived by her husband Bill; daughter Lorelai; and son William.