Succeeding at Life: The Story of Mary Lee Berg


Two generations ago, Mary Lee Berg’s grandmothers needed their parents’ consent to become nurses. They didn’t get it.  Inspired by what they couldn’t do, Mary Lee, who goes by Lee, became a nurse and a professor, encouraging students at OCC to follow in her footsteps.

Berg started her nursing career as a licensed practical nurse and earned her associate degree at St. Joseph’s Hospital School of Nursing and received her bachelor’s degree from Keuka College. When she first started out, Berg was only interested in nursing. As time went on, it became clear she had a true passion for teaching.

Berg described in vivid detail the moment when she realized teaching was her calling. “There was this new phlebotomist who couldn’t seem to draw blood on babies and I was assigned to work with her and help her out. I tried walking her through it verbally, showing her and telling her how to do it but nothing worked. At this point, the bosses told her if she couldn’t figure it out she was fired. Finally, I tried putting my hands over hers and guided her hands through the process and it finally clicked. It turns out she was worried about squeezing the babies heel too hard during blood draws.”

In that moment, Berg found her calling in teaching. For Lee, seeing the light come on and her excitement when she finally “got it” was an incredible and satisfying moment. She went for a master’s degree at SUNY IT and began teaching at Mohawk Valley Community College (MVCC), where she was offered an opportunity to go on a professional development trip to Vietnam. After this trip, Lee hoped that one day she might be able to lead nursing students on a service learning trip to a developing country.

Eventually, the commute from Solvay to MVCC became too much and Berg applied for a job at OCC. “It was really one of the best decisions I made,” Lee said. “I love interacting with the community at OCC and the diversity here is wonderful.”

When she first got here, Berg hit the ground running. She started an affordable study abroad program in Guatemala for nursing students looking to make a difference. Hannah Rhodes, a student who went on the Guatemala trip, praises the program and Professor Berg. “She told us about her past experiences, and what we would be doing there,” Rhodes said. “Without her class and guidance, the Guatemala trip wouldn’t have been as smooth.”

Rhodes also describes the incredible impact Professor Berg had on her. “I also had her in class. She really prepares us by demonstrating births and how to take care of newborn babies. I had the amazing opportunity of observing a birth, which ended up turning into a C-section. Lee was right there with me up until we went into the operating room.”

In her spare time, Berg likes to watch old movies and is a member of the Syracuse Cinephile Society. Professor Mary Lee Berg is an Associate Professor in the Nursing Department at Onondaga Community College. She sits on numerous committees and serves on one of the Middle States Work Groups. Professor Berg is always looking for donations of shoes, over the counter medications, first aid supplies and more to bring to the people in Guatemala. If you would like to help, you may contact her at

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