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Nov. 12, 2009 Volume 31, No. 12

MU goal: Increase college-going rate

DeAngela Burns-Wallace

As a high school student, DeAngela Burns-Wallace attended several Mizzou summer programs that introduced her to the possibilities of attending college. Now, she helps organize those programs as the new director of MU's Access Initiative office. Rob Bratney photo

Access initiatives

Mizzou job brings DeAngela Burns-Wallace full circle

Burns-Wallace began her career as a diplomat with the State Department. Working jobs that varied from staffing visa lines to orchestrating press conferences for presidents and secretaries of state in the continents of Africa and Asia, she was executing foreign policy on an international level. More recently she worked on legislative issues for former Secretary of State Colin Powell on Capitol Hill.

But something was missing in Burns-Wallace’s global line of work. “I realized that I wasn’t having a direct impact on people,” she said.

So Burns-Wallace departed from the world of policies and briefings to embark on a mission to bring the ivory towers of higher education — the towers that served as a pathway for her own career — to students who see college as an unattainable goal. 

And for Burns-Wallace, the new director of MU’s Access Initiatives office, the mission is personal.

A first-generation college student from the inner city, Burns-Wallace had parents who vowed that their children would graduate from college. Her father, Jerome, a telephone repairman, and her mother, Mary, an accounting clerk, both attempted going to college before personal injury and inaccessibility forced them to find careers without degrees. Jerome had his football scholarship revoked after being injured in a game his sophomore year, and Mary found college-level art departments inhospitable to black women in the 1970s.

“Even though my parents didn’t finish college, they knew the power of it,” Burns-Wallace says.

She spent weeks of her summers at Mizzou during high school, participating in everything from cheer camps to the Missouri Business Week. That kind of exposure to college and what it can offer is exactly what she now oversees as director of Access Initiatives.

Through various outreach programs to underrepresented high school groups across the state of Missouri and the Midwest, Access Initiatives strives to instill a college-going attitude among students who may not have considered a college education attainable. Access Initiatives offers programs such as the Minority Achievement Committee Scholars — in conjunction with the Columbia Public Schools — and the Kauffman Scholars Program to offer opportunities for engagement and exploration of college as a feasible destination for all students.

“It’s a question of how do we expose students from all kinds of backgrounds to college,” says Burns-Wallace, “and to this institution in particular.”

Burns-Wallace, director of Access Initiatives as of Oct. 1, 2009, is a native of Kansas City, Mo. She left the Midwest for the West Coast after graduating high school. At Stanford University, she earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations and African American studies. She then set out to earn her master’s degree in public affairs on the East Coast from Princeton University.

The timing of Burns-Wallace’s hire coincided with the departure of Jeff Williams, her predecessor who was director of Access and Urban Outreach, and her moving back to Missouri after working in admissions at her alma mater, Stanford. Burns-Wallace holds a doctorate in higher education management from the University of Pennsylvania.

During her first months at MU, Burns-Wallace has conducted what she terms a “listening tour” to gather the baseline information of current programs being offered throughout the state and greater Midwest region. As soon as that’s complete, she will assess which access initiatives are working, which ones can be replicated and where the need for new programs exists.

“I have lots of ideas, and I can’t wait to hear those of other people as well,” she says.

The Division of Enrollment Management is proud to have snagged such a qualified candidate. “It’s a commentary on the work environment that we have at Mizzou,” said Ann Korschgen, vice provost for Enrollment Management. “[DeAngela] has really been a catalyst for our thinking about new initiatives.”

Burns-Wallace is now back in her home state after carving a large-and-full-circle professional career. In her new role, she is fulfilling her desire to work with people instead of policies. And it’s that work that brings the next generation of students — many of whom thought college out of their reach — through the Columns on Francis Quadrangle. — David Wietlispach