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News reports of the U.S. citizen beheaded in Iraq hit close to home for many Americans. But for those in the Philadelphia region, the death of West Chester, Pa., native Nicholas Berg brought a very human face to the ongoing conflict overseas.

Berg has ties to the Penn community as well. In 1999, Berg attended summer sessions on campus before going on to work at the Republican National Convention, held in Philadelphia in 2000.

At 26 years old, Berg was killed after Islamic militants captured him in Iraq in April. He had entered the country twice since December as an independent contractor looking for work rebuilding the country's telecommunications infrastructure.

His gruesome killing was made public after his captors posted a video recording his last minutes alive on an Islamic militant Web site. American news sources have since broadcasted segments of the film, but none of the footage including Berg's death.

Prior to venturing overseas, Berg graduated from local B. Reed Henderson High School, and went on to enroll at Cornell University in 1996. In addition to Penn, he later attended both Drexel University and the University of Oklahoma, though he never earned a college degree.

"He was an absolutely outstanding student, highly respected by his peers and faculty," said Henderson Principal Dave Berkes. University officials from both Drexel and Cornell also stressed Berg's academic talents, noting that he was on the dean's list for all four of his Cornell semesters and earned a 3.72 grade point average while at Drexel.

In Berg's honor, Drexel established an endowed scholarship on Monday to be awarded annually to students graduating from Henderson.

"This scholarship in his name will help ensure that Nick's legacy remains fresh in the hearts and minds of the Drexel and West Chester Henderson High School communities," Drexel President Constantine Papadakis said in a prepared statement.

Berkes praised the move, saying, "I think it's a great response -- it's in respect for the work the young man did at our school."

Those who remember Berg stressed the magnitude of the loss.

"He was a serious, caring individual who expressed the desire to help people and have a positive influence in the world," Cornell spokesman Blaine Friedlander Jr. wrote in a statement. "We extend our deepest condolences to the Berg family and to Nick's many friends and colleagues during these difficult days."

Berkes also emphasized the impact Berg left upon his local community.

"As I went through the yearbook yesterday looking at all the pictures he was in, I realized you couldn't find an individual as well-rounded as he was," Berkes said. "It's a tragic loss."

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