Susan R. Brooker-Gross
Susan Brooker-Gross, who spent almost 40 years at Virginia Tech, first in the geography department then in university administration, passed away suddenly on January 2, 2016, at the age of 65, due to complications after surgery.
Susan Ruth Gross was born in 1950 in Ohio. She was intellectually precocious and, after excelling in the Lake School District, she attended Bowling Green State University, where she earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in geography.
Having graduated in 1973, she moved to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to pursue a doctorate, also in geography. Her thesis, completed in 1977, was entitled “Spatial Organization of the News Wire Services in the Nineteenth-Century United States.” Looking at the new technology of the telegraph in the mid-nineteenth century, she examined how the expansion of physical infrastructure brought about socio-cultural change, from a focus on local communities to a nationally integrated society. Aspects of her thesis were subsequently published and she continued her interest in the geography of news media throughout her career, publishing articles and chapters on topics ranging from 19th century newspapers to 24-hour global TV news.
Brooker-Gross joined the faculty at Virginia Tech in 1977 as an assistant professor of geography. She was promoted to associate professor in 1983 and chaired the geography department from 1990 to 1993. Geography professor and longtime colleague Jim Campbell said, “Susan, as one of our department’s early faculty members, was a major contributor to our growth and stature at the university.”
Her research centered on urban geography, and explored the impact of gender, technology, and socioeconomic factors on human populations. A particular strand of her work was commuting in non-metropolitan areas and the impact of employment on the household, for example finding child care in rural areas. Much of her field research looked at the area around Blacksburg, Virginia, where she lived, and specifically at households with university employees.
Over time, Brooker-Gross’s interests turned to the administrative aspects of higher education. In 1993, she moved from the geography department to the provost’s office. She started as associate provost for undergraduate programs and became deeply involved with the transition of student records to electronic formats. This work put her into contact with planners and developers in information technology, and in 1997, she joined the Division of Information Technology.
Her first role was as the student systems implementation leader for Banner, the university’s comprehensive application for managing student and personnel information. She later became the Director of Policy and Communications and was responsible for planning news and communications for the Division of Information Technology, as well as developing many of the policies that govern the university’s data access, maintenance, and security.
Her sharp intellect and broad experience at the university made her a valuable administration and planning asset for the division and her contributions to the university will be greatly missed. John Krallman, director of information and technology business and financial affairs said, “She was deeply intellectual, and had a way of thinking about problems that was truly different. Her consideration of IT challenges often yielded better, more thorough solutions than we could otherwise have provided, and we relied on her innovative approach, as well as her skill as a writer and editor.”
Brooker-Gross was a lifetime member of the American Association of Geographers, and actively involved in the Southeast Regional Division including serving as its President. She was also active in her home community of Blacksburg. Together with her husband, they built and then inhabited a winsome homestead in the Blacksburg countryside. In 2001, she decided to learn the flute, and quickly showed sufficient skill to join the Blacksburg Community Band, with whom she thoroughly enjoyed rehearsing and performing.
Susan will be fondly remembered by many friends and neighbors in Blacksburg, as well as colleagues at Virginia Tech. She was predeceased by her husband of 35 years, James E. Brooker, who died in May 2015. She is survived by their son, John Brooker, and her brother, Jeffrey.