Campus Compact, an organization made up of college and university presidents committed to fulfilling the civic purposes of higher education, recently announced its newest recipients of the Newman Civic Fellows Award. The award honors students who have demonstrated an investment in finding solutions for challenges facing communities throughout the country.
Newman Civic Fellows Award winners are recommended by their respective college’s president, who is only allowed to select one per year.
Katherine Burnett, one of 180 winners nationwide, currently studies in the Honors Program at Santa Fe College. Several SF faculty members advocated for Burnett throughout the nomination process, which led to her official recommendation to Campus Compact by college president Dr. Jackson N. Sasser.
SF Political Science instructor Alan Beck met Burnett when they crossed paths at a SF Democracy Commitment meeting, a coalition focused on increasing student engagement in civic learning and democratic participation.
“Katy has volunteered to sit in and provide a student voice in our group,” said Beck. “She has contributed ideas and helped in organizing our events. She really goes out of her way to be active in our campus community.”
However, Burnett has not limited herself to the SF campus in terms of getting involved.
“What distinguishes Katherine from her SF peers is her commitment to political activism,” said Honors Program Coordinator Bobby Hom, who is also a Democracy Commitment member and taught Burnett in a political theory course. “Most students at Santa Fe rarely join community organizations, and even rarer are those students who are politically active. Katherine’s civic engagement resume over the last year is quite impressive.”
Included on Burnett’s long list of extracurriculars are Florida Political Action Cooperative (FPAC) and Unite Women, women’s rights groups which she founded and co-founded respectively. FPAC coordinated with several local organizations to protest at the town hall meetings of Congressman Cliff Stearns against various issues for which he has advocated, with a particular emphasis on his efforts to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding. Unite Women, which already has over a thousand members in Florida, organized a grassroots march on the capitol building in Tallahassee and a rally at the governor’s mansion in April 2012.
Burnett’s stick-to-itiveness is hard to deny. David Price, the adviser of SF’s College Democrats organization, has taken note of it.
“She comes up with not only great ideas, but realistic plans, and most importantly of all, she follows through in carrying out those plans,” Price said.
SF Assistant Vice President Dr. Vilma Fuentes, who instructed a “Politics of the Developing World” class Burnett took, has the most personal view of her former student who helps run a day care, cares for her three young children and goes to school full-time.
“Despite her challenging personal schedule, she always came to class with a smile and cheery demeanor,” said Fuentes. “She showed great respect for people of other religious, cultural or ethnic backgrounds than her own and shows a general interest in sharing perspectives with them.”
Despite the high praise she has garnered throughout her academic and civic careers, Burnett is quick to deflect the attention away from herself.
“It is an honor, of course; it is a wonderful honor to be recognized for your work. But there is so much work that needs to be done; an overwhelming, exhausting amount of work.” Burnett said. “We need women in politics, we need environmental protections for our water, we need food justice for the consumers and the workers and we need to recognize the struggle that our families and working class are experiencing. And those are just a few!”
The Newman Civic Fellows Award aims to honor “inspiring college student leaders,” a phrase that Burnett has proven to perfectly emulate and hopes to spread to others.
“Go find something you are passionate about and do it,” she urged. “Hopefully you will get rewarded, but you may not. Many passionate activists I know are never even thanked, but the importance is the struggle and the fact that we keep fighting.”