ERG Graduate Student Advisor Kay Burns Receives Berkeley’s Highest Advising Honor

ERG graduate student advisor Kay Burns (pictured with ERG/CNR Undergraduate Advisor Ryann Madden and ERG Professor Emeritus Dick Norgaard) has been named a 2018 recipient of the the Mary Slakey Howell Excellence in Advising Award. The award is UC Berkeley’s highest advising honor, and it recognizes visionary leadership and exceptional contributions to the advising community. More than that, it recognizes the incredible impact of exceptional advising on the lives of students, on the quality of life and community on campus, and on the institution itself.

At last week’s awards ceremony, Kay was recognized for her amazing work:

How would it be possible to sum up the 35 detailed individual letters from students, faculty, deans and directors that comprised Kay Burns astonishing nomination portfolio? Let us attempt to merely scratch the surface of her impact, contributions and accomplishments.

Let us start with a quote…”Without people like Kay, UC Berkeley would not be the best public university in the country”.

The stuff of greatness is sometimes demonstrated in the simplest of actions.

Kay’s greatest impact is through the patience and care she shows in her everyday interactions. She supports 65 graduate students dealing with academic challenges and personal ones such as mental health issues, physical injuries, homelessness, and deaths in their families, sometimes walking them to the Tang Center and checking with them on weekends, evenings, even on vacations – and even being there to celebrate important triumphs. Kay has also shows resolute commitment to diversity and inclusion, leading efforts to create an academic environment that welcomes and supports all. She helped the department identify creative ways to reach underrepresented students and has been critical to ERG’s success in recruiting, admitting and working with students from diverse backgrounds. She has also raised awareness of challenges facing student parents and identified campus resources for them that neither students nor faculty had been familiar with.

One nominator described Kay has having a magic wand. With a swoosh of the wand you get enrolled in a Haas class, despite Cal Central blocking you. With a swoosh of the wand the $600 balance remaining on your fees because of a clerical anomaly, gets resolved. With a swoosh of the wand, your anxieties about your research and course plan are washed away for a moment as Kay gives you assurance. Kay is not a wizard. She doesn’t actually do magic. But, she does have a wand. Really.

She is known for scavenging for funds for her students (an international student credited her for being the reason he could fund his graduate education) and for creating calm for those in a program with no prescribed curriculum. Students describe her as cheerful, loyal, fierce, kind, positive, knowledgeable, reassuring, insightful, trustworthy, connected, persistent, student-centered, wise, engaged, committed, a champion, professional, transformative, available, responsible, stellar… ….a gift, a fountain…. and as the reason for their success at Berkeley.

Here is perhaps the greatest quote from her portfolio…Kay is an intelligent, analytical, and critical thinker who takes initiative to innovate and improve systems in ERC and UC Berkeley. She has a sense of responsibility and ownership, an attitude of “someone needs to make this better, so it might as well be me.” This is a rare and precious quality.

Please join us in recognizing the phenomenal, unique and irreplaceable Kay Burns.