Sometimes it’s nice to have someone lean over your shoulder with a second set of eyes and see things from a different perspective. For instance, if a student feels that college may be too overwhelming, Theresa Burriss is there to tell them it may look like that on the outside, but on the inside, they’ve got what it takes.
Burriss is the director of RU’s Learning Assistance and Resource Center (LARC), a comfortable and informal venue for tutoring in math and sciences, assisting in writing, strengthening study skills and offering words of encouragement. Students go there looking for a gentle nudge to get them pointed in the right direction with a project. Faculty appreciate her keen eye for proofing their writing before it goes into publication.
As is the case for all institutions of higher learning, RU recognizes the need for enhancing learning and support. Burriss founded LARC and charted the course for student success.
“I think that what I’ve witnessed is that LARC has finally become an integral part of the RU culture. Students know we are here. Freshmen to seniors and graduate students to faculty promote us,” Burriss says. “Students come to us and they want to do better with their grades.”
Burriss’ areas of expertise include American, Affrilachian and Appalachian literature. Coal mining and mountaintop removal are subjects that tug at her heartstrings. “Because I am Appalachian, a lot of passions are geared toward protecting Appalachia whether it be the people, the culture or the environment,” she says.
Collaboration is important to Burriss. “You are more likely to succeed when you collaborate from all across the disciplines and get different perspectives. That fosters community and it’s a guiding principle in my life,” she says. Recently, she has organized several trips to mountaintop removal sites in Southwest Virginia and Southern West Virginia, and not only with RU faculty, staff, and students. In August she led a group of Gettysburg College students. “I suggested it as a field trip. It’s something that I strongly believe needs to be stopped. It’s complex and it is not simple. It’s not just about blasting the top of the mountain. This is multi-dimensional. It’s about energy, global warming, loss of jobs and cultural preservation. All Americans need to understand that 50 percent of their electricity comes from coal-fired power plants.”
Burriss credits several people with her successes and giving her the will to stretch beyond boundaries. One of the most influential persons was her maternal grandfather, a first generation American with Italian heritage. “My grandfather was a renaissance man. He was brilliant, a scholar, he was an outdoorsman. He knew so much about the outdoors and nature. He taught teachers about what was outside. Culture was important to him.”
An athlete herself, Burriss looked up to her grandfather who, at the age of 76, was bench-pressing 235 pounds. “The tragedy of his life was that he died of Lou Gehrig’s disease. The muscles that he had devoted to strengthening his life turned on him. It was very sad.”
But through her grandfather’s eyes, Burriss carries on his legacy of making the world a better place for generations to come. She says, “ I want to know I made a difference. He is with me. I believe that. “