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Dennis Berg giving a presentation to peers in an office setting

Dennis F. Berg, professor and chair of sociology, lectures participants in the Afghanistan Higher Education Project earlier this year.

Sociologist Shares Expertise in Vietnam

Dennis F. Berg Now Prepares to Spend Next Spring in Ho Chi Minh City

July 1, 2008

By Mimi Ko Cruz

Dennis Berg

Dennis F. Berg

Dennis F. Berg, professor and chair of sociology, recently returned from Vietnam, where he serves as a foreign adviser/facilitator for the Southeast Asian Ministries of Education Organization.

During his latest trip last month, Berg delivered a course on management in higher education for participants from the Afghanistan system of higher education. He covered such topics as strategic planning, assessment, faculty recruitment and development, student recruitment and support and the use of technology in educational systems in developing countries. He will conduct additional training workshops in Vietnam and Laos later this summer.

"Much of what I do is based on my 15 years of administrative experience here at CSUF and my own studies in the areas of academic administration," said Berg, who first visited Vietnam in 1991 as part of a delegation training English teachers. "The health of a nation depends on its educational system. Strengthening the educational systems in countries such as Vietnam is one of the most important things we can do to help them along their way."

Berg has worked in Vietnam every year since 1991. He spent three years living there as a Fulbright Scholar, exchange professor and a foreign expert with the Ford Foundation in Hanoi.

He will spend the spring 2009 semester there, teaching young professors and graduate students about research design and methods, data handling and statistical analysis as part of a grant from the Vietnam Education Foundation in Washington D.C. Berg will be hosted by and will teach at two universities — Open University of Ho Chi Minh City and Hoa Sen (Lotus) Private University, also in Ho Chi Minh City.

Berg joined the university's faculty 38 years ago and has held a number of administrative posts. He served his country by playing the bassoon in the Airforce band for two years before earning his college degrees. He received his bachelor's and master's degrees in sociology from Cal State Fullerton in the late 1960s and his doctorate in sociology from USC in 1974.

He said he's always harbored a sense of guilt for the United States' role in the Vietnam War.

'War, Agent Orange, land mines, embargo. We really did them in,' Berg said. 'The things I have done over the past 16 years constitute my own little contribution for making up for the past sins of our fathers.'

Most of the time he spends teaching in Vietnam is voluntary. He often works there for little or no pay.

'It is really rewarding,' he said. 'The people are so appreciative.'

He said the educators from Afghanistan 'really won my heart. They worked me more than I can ever remember being worked; absorbing everything they could from my experiences at CSUF and in Vietnam. Teaching them was a really terrific opportunity that I will never forget. In fact, their faces haunt me on a daily basis and the news from Afghanistan takes on a whole new set of meanings.'

From many years of personal involvement, Berg 'understands what a profound impact education can have for people in the developing world,' said Thomas P. Klammer, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. 'He empathizes deeply with those constrained by the limiting effects of poverty. Wherever in the world educational opportunities are limited, it is extremely difficult for individuals to open the educational doors of opportunity. Whether Dennis is teaching and administering here at Cal State Fullerton or teaching and leading workshops in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and other parts of the developing world, he always identifies with and gravitates toward those who need support to achieve the advantages we take for granted.'

Over the years, Klammer said Berg has brought countless students to Cal State Fullerton from abroad, especially from China and Vietnam, and has been 'the crucially important advocate who has facilitated university admissions for deserving international students whose lives might be transformed for the better by studying at CSUF.'

Berg's 'personal involvement and mentoring have had a huge impact on students for whom CSUF became a second home abroad,' Klammer said. 'When they return home, perhaps to a town in the Mekong Delta unknown to most Americans, they take back a bit of Cal State Fullerton, new knowledge and abilities to apply in helping their countrymen, and a lifelong love and respect for the professor who was the key in making their study here possible."

With his fellowship from the Vietnam Education Foundation, Berg will be applying the lessons he has learned along the way in his career of international engagement.

The university's mission statement says: "We are a comprehensive, regional university with a global outlook." When Klammer reads that, 'I think first and foremost of Dennis Berg as a roving ambassador from America to the world. He has devoted himself to learning from our third world brothers and sisters, even as he teaches them about how to adapt our model of a university committed to 'access with quality' to the often struggling educational institutions of their homelands.'

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