May 21, 2008

Burris endowment will aid undergraduates

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- With a $35-per-quarter tuition scholarship in hand, Roland W. Burris enrolled as a student at Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 1955. Now, nearly a half-century after earning his bachelor of arts degree in political science, the longtime Illinois public servant and attorney is making a $100,000 scholarship endowment to SIUC to help other young people pursue their dreams of a college education.

"This gift is indicative of Roland's appreciation for the education he received at SIU Carbondale," said Rickey N. McCurry, vice chancellor for institutional advancement and CEO of the SIU Foundation. "He clearly aspires to create opportunities for young people to follow in his footsteps. Roland is a fine example of an alumnus striving to support students in pursuit of their education. His loyalty and devotion to Southern is greatly appreciated."

Burris will provide funding for the scholarship endowment in equal installments this year and for three years to come, with the endowment earnings funding the scholarship. The scholarship is open to black American undergraduate students in the College of Liberal Arts from the Centralia or Chicago metropolitan areas, or other deserving candidates at the scholarship committee's discretion, Burris said. SIUC will likely award the first scholarship from the endowment in 2009.

"This is something I've been intending to do for years," Burrs said of his decision to fund the scholarship. "SIUC was instrumental in helping me and I want to give back. The best way I can do that is to help students. I don't want to see students who for various financial reasons can't further their educations, so I'm doing what I can to help. It's always been my desire if I got in a position where I could do so, to invest in the students and their futures."

Burris said SIUC's creation of the Project Hope and Opportunity initiative last fall to provide equal opportunities and financial assistance to minority students and other traditionally underrepresented populations spurred him to action. The project's goal is to raise $1 million to enhance the Dr. James E. Walker Presidential Scholarship Fund, created in 2006 in honor of the late SIU president.

Burris is a member of the initiative's steering committee. The committee also includes Seymour L. Bryson, associate chancellor for diversity at SIUC; Dr. Wrophas Meeks, radiologist; Harold R. Bardo, director of the Medical-Dental Education Preparatory Program in the School of Medicine at SIUC; and William R. Norwood, former SIU Board of Trustees member and retired captain and pilot for United Airlines. All are SIUC alumni and strong supporters.

"Roland Burris' contribution symbolizes his acknowledgement and appreciation of SIUC's contribution to his personal and professional development," Bryson said. "This contribution expresses his desire and commitment that future generations of non-traditional undergraduate students will be provided the opportunity and the financial support to reach their full potential."

Although he graduated in 1959, Burris has maintained his connection and loyalty to SIUC. While attending the University, the Centralia native played football and wrestled. After earning his bachelor's degree, he was one of just two students selected as an exchange student on scholarship to study international law at the University of Hamburg in Germany. He subsequently earned his law degree from Howard University of Law in 1963.

The word "first" is synonymous with much of Burris' groundbreaking career. After law school graduation, he became the first black national bank examiner for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency for the U.S. Treasury Department, examining banks throughout the Midwest. For nearly a decade, he worked at Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Co. (now known as Bank of America). He worked his way up the ranks with stints as tax accountant, tax consultant, commercial banking officer and vice president. The first black officer for the financial institution, Burris led a commercial group covering government guaranteed loans and minority business banking.

He served as director of the Department of Central Management Services by appointment of Dan Walker, then governor of Illinois. His career has also included terms as executive director and operating officer for Operation PUSH and time in private law practice.

He led the way again in the Illinois political arena in 1978, becoming the first black elected to statewide office when voters chose him as comptroller He won re-election twice and later became the first black elected attorney general in Illinois and just the second in the nation to hold the post. Burris' public service career also includes unsuccessful candidacies for the U.S. Senate, losing to Paul Simon; the mayoral post in Chicago, losing to incumbent Richard M. Daley; and three runs for the Democratic Party nomination for governor.

Currently manager and CEO of Burris & Lebed Consulting LLC, Burris also serves as counsel to the law firm of Gonzalez, Saggio and Harlan LLC. He's an independent director on the board of directors of the Inland Real Estate Corp., a $2 billion real estate investment trust that owns shopping centers, and is chair of the Governance and Nominating Committee.

Burris serves as an adjunct professor for SIUC's master of public administration program. In 1997, he earned a spot on the University's Wall of Fame as one of the 10 Most Distinguished Alumni. He's made frequent visits to the campus, speaking to graduates, law school students, judging moot court and otherwise staying involved.

Ebony magazine named Burris one of the 100 Most Influential Black Americans from 1979 to 1995 and he's earned a number of other awards and recognitions in a career filled with civic activities.

Education is important to the entire Burris family. Burris is married to Berlean M. Burris, who also earned her doctorate and was formerly an administrator at the university level. They have two children: Rolanda S Burris, recipient of a doctorate in higher education administration and Roland W. Burris II, who, as an attorney, holds a juris doctorate like his namesake father.

Roland W. Burris has come a long way from the teen who visited his brother at SIUC in the early 1950s and decided to join him as a student here. And now, the lifetime member of the SIU Alumni Association wants to help future generations take steps toward realizing their dreams with an SIUC education.