Staff Spotlight: Ann Burke

About a month into her new role as C-SED’s Socially Engaged Designer and Facilitator, Ann Burke spoke with storyteller Malin Andersson about what brought her to C-SED as well as what she looks forward to in the future.

Story by Malin Andersson

How/why did you become involved with C-SED?

I’m coming from an education background as a faculty member at Michigan State University teaching Writing & Rhetoric courses and Experience Architecture courses. I started to realize that I really enjoy facilitating learning experiences with and for my colleagues. I started to work with larger groups of faculty members and colleagues by facilitating professional development around teaching and research. All of this work led me to pursue a path that would allow me to do that more. 

I saw this posting at C-SED and it really struck me as something that would help me to grow in my personal and professional interests but also do that work I like around connecting and supporting people in their ideas and processes. 

Describe your role:

I’ll be working closely with C-SED Strategic Director Ann Verhey-Henke, known as “Ann VH” now that there are two Anns. We’ll be working closely to help teams of interdisciplinary faculty, as well as other external partners, develop their visions and goals for solving complex challenges together. 

The role is new to me as well as to C-SED, so part of the work will be figuring out together the future of this role and how it fits within the scope of C-SED’s work. Some of it we have a plan for, and some of it will unfold as we continue to work together! 

What drew you to this particular role? 

I really enjoy lifting others up through that collaboration, as well as fostering the success of others. I like to see other people have success and I like to be a part of that too. I was drawn to this role because of the work that I’ve done providing resources and tools that guide people in directions that might be useful and generative for them as they’re developing their ideas and visions. 

What do you hope to learn in your role? What are you excited about? 

I’m not an engineer and I’m in a new environment, so I’m really excited to learn about the space that I’m in and how to support the people I’m going to be working with. I really enjoy learning new things because that’s what keeps me energized in my work and so I think there will be a lot of that as I start to learn about C-SED, the College of Engineering, and the groups and people I’ll be working with. 

Any advice for those considering your role or a similar one?

I encourage someone interested in this kind of role to be open-minded and think about what could be. My career path is not linear. It’s not easily defined. Ten years ago, I don’t know if I would have thought that I’d end up in a role like this one – but I’m really glad I have! The work that I did prior, even if unexpected, still led me to this role in cool and interesting ways. I’ve been flexible in lots of possibilities and roles and I’m really happy to be here. 

What did you want to be growing up? 

I think I wanted to be an author very early in childhood, but then it became pretty clear in middle school that I wanted to be a teacher. That certainly has evolved over time, but I still think of myself more broadly as an educator. An educator does not have to necessarily be in a school teaching in a classroom. There are different ways you can see that role play out and I still see threads of that in what I’m doing now. 

What do you like about working at C-SED? 

When I interviewed for this position, Ann VH talked about how important it is for her to foster a joyful culture. Through our conversations, it rings true in C-SED culture and how the staff supports one another. So far in this first month, I’ve found that to be true. We intentionally take time to know who we’re working with and support each other in the work that we’re doing. 

What is one project you have really enjoyed working on?

I’m at the beginning of a variety of projects which is really fun. We’ll potentially be working with an external stakeholder to help them with strategic planning, and we recently worked with the LSA Recruitment Office in the facilitation of a workshop with rising 9th-graders centered around socially engaged design. I’m also looking forward to meeting with faculty in the next couple of weeks to learn how C-SED can best support them. 

Any unexpected parts of the job that have surprised you?

I have been out to eat a lot to celebrate! There is a lot for C-SED to celebrate right now. It’s been surprising and fun. We just went to the Matthaei Botanical Gardens to eat donuts and scones that Ann Verhey-Henke made. It was a really lovely time. 

Any design tools recommendations?

This is very low-tech, but I’m a big fan of sticky notes. They’re a quick way to capture an idea – an easy but effective way to organize and synthesize information. I like bright colors like orange and pink especially. They catch your eye and you just can’t leave them unattended. 

As someone with a background in English, what do you like to read? 

One Nonfiction book that has been close to me lately in helping me navigate the world has been Glennon Doyle’s Untamed. As for Fiction, Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey. It was recommended to me by my Uncle John, who was also an English major, when I was traveling to Oregon for the first time because he thought I would appreciate Kesey’s descriptions of Oregon. I did! And the way he illustrates parts of Oregon reminds me of  Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where I grew up. 

What can someone come to talk to you about?

I’m happy to talk to people about how I, as a facilitator, might support them in their work and ideas, especially with incorporating the socially-engaged design process. I’m also happy to connect people and build partnerships – particularly in building bridges between K-12 and higher education spaces. 

I’m also really interested in talking about and practicing things like Learning Experience Design and User Experience Design (UX) in relation to socially engaged design. 

What is a social justice topic you are passionate about and why?

One of my professors in my Ph.D. program once said that if I’m not working, I’m at a protest. That’s always stuck with me because I believe it’s really important to pay attention, be involved, and keep asking questions. If we’re not paying attention, the ways in which we live and have access to things are deeply affected in ways that are detrimental. I think it’s really important to be civically involved and keep pushing boundaries by thinking about who is at the table and who is not. 

Organizations like C-SED as well as other groups and individuals are paying attention.  They’re asking the hard questions and that gives me hope. I’m not alone in this and the community of people who find the work worthwhile. 

A concrete example from my educator background is access to education. I’m passionate about making education more accessible for a range of folks. 

As someone who grew up in the Upper Peninsula, do you have any recommendations for good spots to enjoy nature? 

The Bewabic State Park, near my hometown of Crystal Falls, has really good camping with a chain of lakes and nice trails. The Paint River is in the same area where you can canoe and kayak. 

Around here, my dog Jet and I go to all the different parks in Ann Arbor – like Gallup Park and County Farm Park. It’s been fun to explore. 

You can read more about Ann Burke in her C-SED bio

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