Burkert To Serve as Next Vice Provost for Education
By Bruce Gerson, The Piper, April 2010
Amy Burkert, an assistant dean for the Health Professions Program and Educational Initiatives at the Mellon College of Science, and a teaching professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, will become vice provost for education Aug. 1, succeeding Indira Nair, who has announced her retirement after 12 years in the role.
Burkert seems to be a perfect fit for the position. For more than a decade shehas been dedicated to serving the needs of Carnegie Mellon’s students, faculty and programs. As a pioneering teacher, advisor, mentor and administrator, she’s helped to create novel opportunities and new paradigms that have been nationally recognized.
In announcing her appointment, Executive Vice President and Provost Mark Kamlet cited her commitment and innovative approach to education.
“We are fortunate to have Amy Burkert, an enormously dedicated and talented educator, to fill this important role,” Kamlet said. “Amy brings to the position much experience and enthusiasm as an award-winning student advisor and teaching professor in Biological Sciences — she is a recipient of both the University Advising Award and the MCS Julius Ashkin Teaching Award — and as an associate department head and dean, who’s been a creator and developer of successful new courses and programs.”
MCS Dean Fred Gilman agrees.
“Amy is a great choice for vice provost for education. She’s been an invaluable member of the faculty of the Mellon College of Science. She excels in whatever she takes on, showing time and again that her heart is in the work of educating, advising and mentoring Carnegie Mellon students,” Gilman said.
MCS Associate Dean Eric Grotzinger says Burkert’s love for teaching and compassion for students will serve her well in her new role.
“Whether in a traditional classroom, a roundtable discussion room, a research laboratory or an advising office, Amy strives to convey to her students a passion for learning, an enthusiasm for scientifi c discovery and her sincere commitment to their personal, academic and professional development. She will bring this same passion, enthusiasm and
innovation to her new job,” Grotzinger said.
Burkert’s innovative accomplishments include helping to create new interdisciplinary courses of study, such as the Bachelor of Science and Arts and the Science and Humanities Scholars programs. She helped to establish the unified major in biological sciences and psychology, the biomedical engineering minor for non-engineering students and the minor in health care policy and management.
She also was on the team that developed the intercollegiate bachelor’s degree program in computational biology and the master’s degree program in biotechnology, policy and management. Burkert was instrumental in developing the global health course Biotechnology Impacting OurSelves, Societies and Spheres (BIOS3), and EUREKA, a first-year seminar for MCS students that combines the disciplines of biological sciences, physics, chemistry and mathematical sciences. She was part of the team that created the Diabetes World Service-Learning Project with Children’s Hospital, which provided students in the Health Professions Program the opportunity to experience first-hand the challenges faced by patients with chronic disease.
Under her leadership, both the Health Professions Program and the undergraduate program in Biological Sciences have grown in numbers and reputation. She has developed and nurtured numerous partnerships across campus and throughout the region. Thousands of students have been impacted by her work.
True to the Carnegie Mellon ethos, Burkert is always looking for ways to advance the cutting edge in education. She recognizes the unique elements of Carnegie Mellon that make it an ideal place for collaborative innovation. Many of the educational initiatives she was a part of were the result of realizing a need, partnering with students and faculty to imagine what could be done, and then taking action to work together to make it happen.
Burkert has very much enjoyed BIOS3, which she developed with Grotzinger and the late Bill Brown in response to President Jared Cohon’s Global Course Initiative. She said the class is one of her “favorite projects because it brings together many elements including teams of interdisciplinary students exploring science in context, global connections via technology and impact through service learning.”
Taught by Burkert and her colleagues for the past three years, BIOS3 focuses on different global health topics including HIV/AIDS and diabetes. Students in the class on HIV/AIDS collaborated with an alumna in a clinic in Africa and the diabetes class learned from health offi cials in Qatar, both via videoconferencing.
Through the BIOS3 service-learning component students take their knowledge and apply it in a public health service activity. Students collected items for caregiver kits that were shipped to the clinic in Africa and given to AIDS workers to take on their rounds. The diabetes module class distributed healthy food to underserved communities through the Produce to the People project at the Greater Pittsburgh Foodbank.
Serving others comes naturally for Burkert — it was a large part of her upbringing. Her father was a minister and her mother was a nurse. Both modeled the fulfillment of working hard to serve the needs of others and one’s community.
Working with and for students has been one of Burkert’s greatest joys. She said it will be difficult giving up her daily and direct interactions with students but she hopes through her work as vice provost, she will be able to have an even broader impact. Her former students are confident she will succeed.
“I feel immensely excited that this entire institution will be able to benefit from the dedication that Dr. Burkert has to education the way I have benefitted these past years,” said Elizabeth Young, a senior biology and health professions major.
“Her excellence in mentoring, communicating, educating, problem solving and leading will surely make her successful as the vice provost for education. I could not be more thrilled with the news, and am only sorry that I will not still be at this institution to see the improvements in educational objectives that she will instill,” Young said.
Sheila Prakash, an MCS graduate who was recently hired as a science writer for The New York Times, credits Burkert for academically rescuing her.
“Carnegie Mellon is home to some standout individuals. I don’t know of another school that takes better care of its students. As vice provost for education, Dr. Burkert will be able to reach more students than she did before — and that spells extraordinary things for the future of the university,” Prakash said.
Burkert says she has a lot to learn and is eager to meet with each dean, department head and director of the many units across campus “to put my finger on the pulse of what’s happening, explore the key issues, determine what is working and to envision together ways we can improve and move forward.”
“At Carnegie Mellon we have been innovators in education just as we are in research. I hope to be able to continue to build on that legacy,” she said. “This is an amazing environment in which bridges can actually be formed and sustained. There’s always something that can be improved or a new approach that can be made possible through collaboration.”
Burkert shared that she feels fortunate to have been mentored for many years by the current vice provost, Indira Nair. She said one of the most important things that Nair has told her is to approach the position as being the university’s voice for education, a leader who serves the university by supporting and enabling all of its students and faculty to do great things. Burkert stands ready to serve.