Throughout our lives, we meet people who make a great impact. People who hold a special place in our minds and hearts. For UND and the Grand Forks community, Lisa Burger, Assistant Vice President for Student Academic Services, was this person.
She was many things to many people: wife to her husband Gerrad, mother to sons Isaac and Noah, daughter, friend, leader, mentor. . . the ways to describe her are endless.
Angie Carpenter, Director of Student Success, who worked with Lisa for 18 years said, “Lisa was a very kind, gentle, leader, who was very passionate about her work and would fight for students as needed.
“Over the years, I saw Lisa develop relationships across campus with students, faculty, and staff in a way that seemed effortless. She had the respect of so very many across our campus for her leadership style. She cared for people on a personal level as well as professional level. Her staff respected her in the greatest way and they knew that she had their back in the work that was being done. She encouraged, guided, and supported all that worked in our office. She knew our families and we knew hers. Her husband and boys were so very important to her!”
She was a rarity, dedicating her life to helping others, working for UND and its students for more than 20 years. Her passion for her alma mater ran deep. She earned four different degrees from UND: an Associate of the Arts in Aviation Services, Bachelor of the Arts in Public Relations and later earning both her masters and doctoral degrees.
As a staff member, Lisa wore many hats and held many leadership roles including Director of Student Academic Services from 2000 to 2007, Director of Student Success Center from 2007 to 2010, and most recently, she was appointed as the Assistant Vice President for Student Academic Services in 2013. She was an instrumental leader in creating the Student Success Center which was the merging of Student Academic Services, University Learning Center and the Adult Re-entry Center.
Always Remain Positive
Lisa fought two courageous battles with cancer. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and successfully beat the disease. Earlier this year, she was diagnosed with liver cancer, and passed away after a brave fight on July 17, 2019. Throughout both illnesses and subsequent treatments, she continued to work, lead, and maintain the positive attitude for which she was known.
Many people have spoken with me about Lisa and one word popped up each and every time, positivity. Dr. Elizabeth Bjerke, Aerospace Associate Dean and Professor had this to say about Lisa, “Lisa was a shining, bright light at UND. She was always incredibly positive regardless of the situation and understood the importance of bringing teams together from different backgrounds to improve the campus experience for all. Lisa embodied everything that makes me proud to work at UND. I had the privilege of working with her in many different capacities for nearly fifteen years. Over the years I learned countless things from her, however looking back the lesson that I will forever carry with me is to remain positive regardless of the situation.”
Another person impacted by Lisa’s positive spirit was Dr. Cara Halgren, Vice President for Student Affairs & Diversity. “I met Lisa when I started working at UND twelve years ago. What I most admired and respected about Lisa was that she was always positive and encouraged others to be optimistic. Lisa had this incredible way of elevating a conversation so that you focused on the stuff that really mattered. And for Lisa, students were what really mattered most. Since Lisa’s death, former students have been clear to point out that Lisa was often instrumental in their success as a student. They knew she cared and that they mattered.” Current and former students have posted on social media about Lisa and her impact on them.
Lisa was not only positive, she was realistic. “She was kind and compassionate, but she was also real, feisty and very direct. If you had questions, she would be blunt and honest in answering you. Even if it was something you may not want to hear, but she really cared about you and you always felt as though, even if a decision was made you didn’t agree with, you were heard and, in time, whatever Lisa said would make sense,” Shari Nelson, Assessment & System Administrator, said. “When I first became a supervisor, I spoke with Lisa. I tried to be the kind of supervisor she had been to me. Then and now, I try to think, W.W.L.D., What Would Lisa Do? And whatever I think she would have done, I do.”
While battling cancer, traveling to and from medical appointments meant Lisa was not always able to be in the office, but she was definitely there in spirit. So much so, that her co-workers made “Little Lisa.” Shari said she and Michele Carroll made a cutout of Lisa.
“She had different outfits. We would take her with us everywhere and get pictures of her with people and places around campus, and we would send Lisa the photos of Little Lisa to let her know we were thinking of her and she was still here in spirit. One time, we took a picture of Little Lisa on a small airplane when she was on a flight back from treatment showing her that she was headed back to us!”
Keeping Lisa’s Legacy Alive
In the past, scholarships have been created to honor the memory of former staff, faculty, and students who have left a lasting imprint on the UND community. A few of these include the Annette L. Klosterman Memorial Aviation Scholarship Endowment, the Stuart A. Lundberg Memorial Scholarship Endowment, and Randy H. Lee Memorial Scholarship Endowment. Similarly, we hope to honor Lisa at UND because she will not be forgotten; we are hoping to honor Lisa’s memory and further her legacy with the creation of the Lisa Burger Memorial Fund.
This fund will serve to help students, whom, as Angie said, Lisa worked so hard for. Beginning now and ending on October 5, 2019, for every dollar contributed to the fund, both Provost DiLorenzo and VP Halgren will personally contribute a dollar-for-dollar match up to $10,000. “Not only was Lisa the biggest supporter of UND students, she was an incredibly loyal and good friend, co-worker and supervisor. All of us felt ‘taken care of’ by Lisa. Her legacy and care has made an impact on us and will continue to shape how we treat and respect one another,” Provost Thomas DiLorenzo said.
Originally, Lisa’s neighbors had planned a party for her which would have occurred at the completion of her cancer treatment. Now, they have turned the party into a fundraising event. “Lisa was an amazing mentor and role model for countless individuals, like myself, at UND. Her legacy will continue to live on at UND not only through those she helped inspire, but future generations that will be mentored by her mentees,” Dr. Bjerke perfectly sums up why this fund is so important. It will provide aid to students who will develop leadership skills like those Lisa possessed and it will help carry on Lisa’s spirit. If you also feel moved to donate, you may do so by clicking here.
— Tom DiLorenzo, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Cara Halgren, Vice President for Student Affairs & Diversity