Dexter Burns: Giving the World

Making aspirations possible. That’s what scholarships do in the lives of students, and that’s why they are a Reaching Stellar Campaign priority. With Dexter Burns, scholarships did more: they changed the course of his life, leading him to professional achievement and a global perspective on life. Now, he is reaching back to help other students turn their possibilities into similar success.

Dexter Burns in Mexico

Dexter Burns, 27, is the youngest individual alum ever to create a named scholarship at UIS.

He has a great career, working as the Intern Manager at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, one of the largest foreign policy think tanks in Washington, D.C. He hires interns from all over the world, so he has to navigate easily among multiple cultural norms, expectations, and perspectives.

He’s able to make it work because of the life-changing journey he has taken since leaving his home in Chicago.

From Chicago to global

That journey all began with a two-week cultural/language immersion trip, Dexter says, that he took to Peru in 2012 as part of his Global Studies major at UIS.

Dexter loved those two weeks so much he signed up for a semester-long program in Mexico. One day during a classroom discussion at the University of Colima, the professor asked how many continents there are in the world. “I immediately raised my hand and shouted, ‘Seven!'” Dexter says.

But Dexter was shocked when other students said 6, and 5, and even 4. The professor explained that around the world, countries group land masses differently. In Mexico, for example, North and South America are grouped together, so the world has six continents. “I realized at that moment that there’s more than one way to see the world, and that no one opinion is necessarily the correct one.” He marks this as a major step forward toward becoming a citizen of the world.

Music and culture

While in Mexico, Dexter became intrigued by how popular American pop music was among Mexican youths, and he wrote his senior paper at UIS entitled The US Invasion in Mexican Popular Culture, adding to his global perspective.

Dexter Burns in Mexico

He solidified this perspective further at the U of I in Urbana, where he earned a master’s degree in Latin American Studies. After traveling to Bolivia to research Afrobolivian music, he wrote his master’s thesis entitled Music of Activism: Examining the use of Saya by Afrobolivian Social Activists about how the black community in Bolivia uses music as a tool for social protest.

Because of his global studies background, he was hired by the International Trade Commission, a federal agency in Washington, D.C., and eventually took a job with CSIS.

Reaching back to help others

In graduate school, when his friends learned about his experiences abroad, many spoke with regret about not having enough money to do the same. That touched Dexter on a personal level because with scholarship support from UIS alumni and donors, he was able to travel to Peru with no out-of-pocket costs.

“Those initial two weeks in Peru—they set the foundation for me to travel to Mexico,” Dexter says, “and then in graduate school to eight more countries, and eventually to my career in international affairs. Without scholarships, I would never have had that initial experience.”

That’s when he decided—four years ago—to help students at UIS to study abroad.

This fall, Dexter created the Burns Scholarship for International Travel at UIS. “If I can help send one or two students abroad to have the wonderful opportunity that I had—one of my best experiences as an undergraduate—then this scholarship is worth every penny,” Dexter says.

To deepen the students’ cultural understanding, Dexter would like his recipients to be first-time travelers going to a country that is lower on the human development index rather than to countries like France, Australia or Singapore. “This will force students to leave their comfort zones and perhaps lose the unconscious ethnocentrism that we all have before we live within a different culture.”

From Chicago to UIS to the world.

Such a far journey, but Dexter Burns hasn’t forgotten what he gained along the way. Thanks to his thoughtful generosity, this next year a UIS student can embark on the same journey of the mind and heart that Dexter has taken, supported by Dexter’s scholarship.

“I do believe that alums should reach back and help someone else,” he says. “That’s what I’m doing.”

Scholarships: A Reaching Stellar campaign priority
Because scholarships affirm the aspirations, energy and diversity of our students

Please consider how you also can change a student’s life through a scholarship. You can find more information about doing so here.