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Burris receives Durham Freshman Advocate Award

BOONE—Could there be higher praise for an educator than this?

“She made me enjoy college and regain my joy for learning, she helped me get into and enjoy research, and she helped me succeed as a student and as a person. Dr. Jennifer Burris is the ideal recipient of this award because she is the definition of an educator.”

View larger imageDr. Jennifer Burris, center, is this year’s recipient of the Harvey R. Durham Freshman Advocate Award. She is pictured with the award’s founders, Dr. Harvey Durham, left, and his wife, Susan. (Photo by Amanda Getty)

That’s just one of the accolades students wrote about Burris, an assistant professor in Appalachian State University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, and this year’s recipient of the Harvey R. Durham Freshman Advocate Award. The award recognizes a full-time university employee who has contributed significantly to improving the freshman experience on campus. The award includes $1,000, a plaque and a university medallion that will be presented at convocation in September.

Burris joined the faculty at Appalachian as an adjunct in 2007 and became an assistant professor in 2010. In addition to having taught First Year Seminar, Burris teaches physics courses for non-majors.

Her approach to teaching is based on personal experience. “When I was a freshman, I was desperate for a support system, which I never found. I struggled through my freshman year and in fact briefly dropped out of college,” Burris wrote in a statement for her nomination packet. “Clearly, I resumed my studies and have been successful in my educational goals, but I often reflect on that time in my life and endeavor to give freshmen the extra support they may need to succeed.”

Another student nominator wrote about Burris’s support and mentoring of undergraduates.

“When I first got into her class my second semester of my freshman year I was truly hating college. I had lost my joy for learning and was searching for other options,” the student wrote.

“Dr. Jennifer Burris changed all of that. (She) made learning a very difficult subject, physics, fun and well worth the time. She always tied what we were learning to the real world. She put in so much time and cared so much for the students she changed my whole outlook on school.”

The nominator now is a graduate. “Vividly I remember being flustered and frustrated, seeking guidance in Dr. Burris’ office hours. Now in my first year of physics graduate school at North Carolina State University, it is clear the hook was set once I entered Jennifer’s classroom,” the student wrote.

“I am very satisfied when I can help a freshman navigate the uncertainty of college – from dealing with classmates, to coping with faculty, dorm life, study skills,” Burris said. “I believe that a large part of my job is to help students be successful, not only in my course, but in their college career and beyond.”

The Harvey R. Durham Freshman Advocate Award was created by Susan and Harvey Durham. Harvey Durham served as Appalachian’s chief academic officer for 24 years, and was acting chancellor from May 2003-July 2004.