Tributes have been pouring in across the CALS community for Kathy Berggren ’90 MAT ’93, a senior lecturer in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, who died unexpectedly on July 24 while attending a conference in Portland, Oregon. She was 46.
Berggren came to Cornell as an undergraduate to study animal science, and pursued an MAT in science education before joining the faculty in 1993. She recently became a member of the Dyson School faculty, where she was leading the development of a new management communication program. She previously had a 20-year tenure as a lecturer in Cornell’s Department of Communication, where she taught courses in oral communication and served as advising and internship coordinator.
“The CALS community is shocked and saddened by the abrupt loss of this effervescent woman,” said Dean Kathryn Boor. “While Kathy may have been tiny in physical stature, she lit up any room with her warmth and sparkling personality. She touched so many lives, on our campus, in our community and well beyond. She truly cared about her fellow citizens, and it showed in her words and deeds. Along with our entire university community, I will miss her.”
Berggren was a faculty adviser to many student groups, including the Association for Women in Communication, FACES (Facts, Advocacy and Control of Epileptic Seizures), Help a Life Organization (HALO), and the Touchtones a cappella group. In addition, she served on many department, college and university committees, including as co-chair of the CALS Diversity Committee. She was a past board member for WVBR radio station and for the national Association for Women in Communication.
Berggren was a fellow for the Center for Outreach and Engagement, where she led a project to design a disability awareness program for middle school students. Disability awareness was a personal passion, and she was involved in many advocacy efforts within the Ithaca community, including as a parent advocate for the Ithaca School District.
Developing engaging curriculum and empowering students were two of her professional passions, and garnered her international recognition – she received a Clarion award for curriculum design in 2011. Her teaching and advising efforts have been recognized with the President’s Carpenter Award, the CALS Circle Award, and several Greek System Excellence in Teaching and Service awards
“Far more important than any award, witnessing the growth and development of my students provide infinite satisfaction and motivation,” Berggren wrote. “I define myself as an empowering collaborator and connector. A successful course is one where the instructor can disappear at the end, empowering the students to continue thriving in their knowledge and confident leadership.”
Hillary Pond ’13, one of seven students who collaborated with Berggren to create a new management communication course at the Dyson School, praised her former instructor’s infectious enthusiasm and dedication both in and out of the classroom.
“Kathy wasn’t just a professor, she was a trusted mentor and beloved friend,” Pond said. “She left a remarkable impact on myself, Dyson and the Cornell community as a whole, always bringing joy and love to all who knew her.”
“Some people walk into your life and they don’t just touch your life, they change it. Kathy is the reason that I am in the communications profession and chasing my dreams in Washington, D.C.,” said another former student, Molly Pfaffenroth ’12, a communication intern at the International Dairy Foods Association. “Not many professors will have you over for dinner with their family, take you along to their yoga class, or invite your parents to their home on graduation day. But Kathy did. She was my college professor, my advisor, my life mentor, my Ithaca mother and my friend.”
“Kathy had a special way of creating an environment that was challenging, collaborative, vibrant, and most importantly, safe. In her classroom, it was safe to be yourself, to speak your mind, to make mistakes, and to grow,” said Reyna Venkat, Berggren’s lead undergraduate teaching assistant. “Kathy’s ability and willingness to challenge the status quo as shown with her new Management Communication class is admirable, and the legacy she left behind is inspirational.”
“Kathy was a deeply committed and passionate teacher whose enthusiasm and compassion for her students helped thousands of undergrads overcome their fears of public speaking in COMM 2010,” said Katherine McComas, professor and chair of the Department of Communication. “She touched more lives than many of us will ever know, both at Cornell and outside in her many pursuits to advocate for students with disabilities.”
“The Dyson School community has lost a much-beloved member,” added Christopher Barrett, the David J. Nolan Director and Stephen B. & Janice G. Ashley Professor of Applied Economics and Management at the Dyson School. “She was only on our faculty since January, but Kathy made an immediate, positive contribution with her boundless energy, can-do spirit, creativity and collegiality.”
“I never in my life met a person which such capacity for giving as Kathy Berggren,” said Alicia Orta-Ramirez, senior lecturer of food science who served with Berggren on the CALS Diversity Committee. “I always wondered how such a petite frame could hold such an enormous heart, which she opened - as well as her home and classroom - to anyone, making them feel welcome, heard, cared and supported. She was a very devoted parent and spouse, exceptional loyal friend, tremendously passionate educator, avid contributor to the community, and fearless supporter of all deserving causes but, most especially, diversity and disability awareness.”
Berggren is survived by her husband Martin, a systems administrator for Cornell Computing and Information Science, and two children.