Education is powerful. In the words and actions of Lauren Burns, an executive assistant in USD’s offices of planned giving and donor relations, it’s a daily personal journey to find something to enhance her knowledge and how it can help others.
“It’s about just being on USD’s campus and being part of the community,” Burns said. “You can really get caught up in your world, doing whatever it is you do, but a woman of impact broadens her scope. She does a little more than her designated role. She makes a difference outside of what’s necessary or what the role is supposed to be.”
Burns, who is now in her third year as a USD staff employee, broadens her scope most often during her lunch break. She’s got just enough time between the many tasks in her job within the Degheri Alumni Center building to take off her heels, put on flats and walk to the other end of campus to attend a lecture at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice. She might take her lunch across the street to the Hahn University Center or the Student Life Pavilion to take in a student activity hosted by a club, organization or the Torero Program Board.
“I really like USD. I like what seems to go on in the IPJ a lot because they bring in really good speakers who are making a difference in the world,” she says. “There’s so much different programming on campus. I see USD trying to be at a top level all the time. There’s a lot you can get involved with here.”
Burns’ recent recognition as the USD Staff Woman of Impact Award winner as chosen by the USD Women’s Center, wasn’t simply due to her desire to get out of the office. Rather, it is her desire to know and grow through that involvement, share it and be a positive example to others that provides impact.
The nomination submitted to the center for Burns, which stays anonymous, describes the Pennsylvania born, Southern California raised and San Diego State University alumna as someone who “enjoys helping students think about maximizing their college experience as she wishes someone had done this for her when she was in college.”
Active in student groups, activities and government as an undergraduate, Burns was involved, but there was always something missing.
“State was a huge place and I’d find little groups to plug into, but in every one of these groups, in every class, I’d always wish that someone would tell me what little thing I should know to successfully pass this year, this class, and so on. I love to do that now, especially for the student workers in our office. I remember how I felt as an undergrad, just trying to figure things out. When I talk to student workers I say to them what I wish I’d known beforehand. I could have figured out a way to study abroad. Career wise, get that internship and start figuring out what you want to try and, above all, don’t waste time. Those conversations come up all the time with the students.”
Aside from being a mentor for student workers, Burns is also true to her desire to contribute to campus initiatives. When she learned about USD’s drive to be a institution leader on sustainability through various campus projects she responded by walking to the office of the Director of Sustainability, Michael Catanzaro, and asked, “How can I help?”
He mentioned an upcoming sustainability fair and Burns responded by recruiting a speaker affiliated with the Clinton Climate Change initiative to speak to the audience. Burns then learned about a student-led dinner with sustainable foods from an on-campus garden so she helped set that up. Burns, whose degree was in financial services, said sustainability, especially from a business perspective, has long fascinated her.
“I’m always interested in what the next innovation is going to be and how it might be important to business. My passion is business. I want to make business a little more about the people and about the community,” said Burns, who just started USD’s MS in Real Estate program part-time this fall. “I think USD is really good for that. Anyone who comes to this institution has that in mind because of its strong ethics and strong sense about sustainability. I’ve been reading and learning a lot about the ‘People, Planet and Profit’ model. I want to be part of it and see how business can be part of it and help us do less harm to the planet.”
Another investment of Burns’ time is building community among black students, faculty, staff and administrators at USD. Burns, her nominator states, “does what she can to let people of color know there is a supportive community at USD, both people who look like them and also support from people who don’t.”
Burns looks forward to meeting Dr. Ashley Barton, the inaugural director of USD’s new Black Student Resource Center (Hahn UC, Room 113), and further strengthening the black community on campus.
The same could be said for women, in general, at USD. While the student population majority is female and key leadership includes President Mary Lyons, multiple deans of individual schools, professors and administrators, the Women’s Center provides all women at USD a supportive environment.
Burns, while appreciative of this campus resource, adds that she tries to stay away from “framing the world as men versus women” because, she says, it’s too easy to be overcome by thoughts of something that’s lacking or inferiority.
“I like to see the glass half full and to focus on doing what I can to fill the rest of the cup,” she said.
— Ryan T. Blystone