A Lasting Impact

 

Suzanne Berg, left, and Heather Kaiser. A scholarship in Berg’s name has been established by Kaiser with help from former classmates who traveled, competed and bonded with their friend and teammate.

 

They traveled the country together, competed in speech tournaments together, even lived together for three years as Minnesota State Mankato students. 

Heather Kaiser has memories to last a lifetime of her college days with Suzanne Berg, a close friend who died in February at age 36. Berg was known for her wit, love of family and students and her voice for marginalized communities, Kaiser says.

But Kaiser and other friends are making sure Berg’s legacy lasts beyond memories. Starting in February, she’ll be the namesake of the Dr. Suzanne V. Loen-Berg Scholarship. Kaiser created it as the first step toward a full endowment in honor of a friend who immersed herself in current events and social justice for the underserved in school and society.

Kaiser and Berg became friends through participation on the speech team for three years in the early 2000s. Traveling as far west as California and as far south as Mississippi to compete, their friendship grew as rich as the experiences they shared.

“It was fun to travel with her, to be around her energetic laugh, and have those shared experiences,” Kaiser says. “She was an amazing competitor and an amazing student.” 

Berg’s mother, Cindy Loen, notes, “Suzanne took the opportunities at Mankato and shook them until she got what she wanted for herself. She found her voice and reinforced her beliefs during her time at Minnesota State Mankato. This gave her the fierce strength to fight for equality for all people.”

After graduating from Minnesota State Mankato, Berg went on to earn a doctorate in communications from Bowling Green State University; she worked as a communications professor at Newman University, a private school in Wichita, Kan. There, she lived with her husband and their two children, who today are 5 and 2. Berg died unexpectedly Feb. 6, 2018.

It was at Berg’s funeral in Wichita that Kaiser and 11 former speech teammates reconnected in remembrance of their mutual friend. “There were 12 of us from the speech team who hadn’t seen each other in years. We all met from different states to remember our dear friend,” Kaiser said.  

They discussed a plan to establish an endowment in Berg’s name. Living in Minnesota and working in Minneapolis, Kaiser took the idea and worked with the College of Arts and Humanities development office to discuss how to make that happen. 

To anyone who knows Kaiser, this kind of idea would come as no surprise. She has been giving to the University since her days as an undergraduate. It’s all payback, she says, for the quality education, the experiences, the friendships and the world travel that were part of her time at Minnesota State Mankato. What the University gave her, she said, was an extra family.  

Endowments require at least $50,000 to get moving, so Kaiser decided she’d start by establishing a scholarship in Berg’s name for the next three years and spend that time rallying support for an eventual endowment.  

Berg’s scholarship is designed to help the kind of students Berg herself loved to help, particularly women and LGBT students. 

“We hope to inspire people who are pioneering like she was,” Kaiser says, “and specifically using communication and rhetoric to give voice to people who are often silenced.”

The scholarship provides $1,500 a year for a returning student majoring or minoring in speech communication who has a demonstrated interest in social protest and rhetorical criticism; experience in social activism is a preference, as is being a member of the forensics team. 

In the meantime, Kaiser is reaching out to classmates and faculty who have worked with Berg to talk about the endowment.   Those interested in contributing to it can contact the Arts and Humanities Development Office at 507-389-1006. Berg’s name can also be designated on the donation web page https:// mnsu.quadweb.site/giving/give-a-gift-to-mnsumankato.