President’s Council on Culture recognizes WGAC, Melissa Burt as agents of change

When the President’s Council on Culture put out its call for nominations for notable contributions to the culture of Colorado State University, the response was a bright light in what has been an especially difficult year amid the ongoing pandemic.

Nominations for the Culture Award, part of Celebrate! Colorado State, started pouring in, with peers recognizing numerous individuals and units for going above and beyond to effect culture change at CSU. That made for a very difficult deliberation for council members, but PCC Chair and Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Sue James said it was a good position to be in because it revealed just how much work is being done across CSU.

“It was impressive to see the number of submissions and to read the passionate cases made for recognizing nominated faculty, staff and units. As we read through the nominations, it was clear we were not going to be able to select just one award recipient as we had intended,” James said. “There were just so many who were deserving to be recognized, but Melissa Burt and the WGAC staff stood out as major agents of change.”

That led council members to select both Melissa Burt, Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering assistant dean for diversity and inclusion, and the Women and Gender Advocacy Center as award recipients. Burt was recognized in the individual category, and WGAC in the group category.

Melissa Burt

Burt received several nominations, including one co-signed by WSCOE Dean David McLean and Associate Professor of Atmospheric Sciences Emily Fischer:

“Dr. Burt serves in numerous leadership positions with national professional organizations in the Earth Sciences, fields with the lowest diversity across all STEM fields,” they wrote. “She leads initiatives to empower younger scientists and also facilitates difficult discussions on equity. At the same time, she is quietly but fiercely supporting individual students who reach out in need of a mentor or a role model. In the last year, she co-founded a national campaign to educate mothers about climate change and became an IAspire Leadership Academy Fellow. In every arena, her leadership is creative, humble, brave, and undeniably effective.”

Burt said she is deeply honored to be nominated and humbled to receive the award, and that she is extremely grateful for members of her college and the CSU community who are working to co-create a culture that is inclusive and equitable for all members.

Melissa Burt
Melissa Burt

“Receiving this recognition represents an affirmation of the challenges we have faced over the last few years. We have been forced to examine our blind spots based on our various cultures and experiences,” said Burt. “I firmly believe that as we look at opportunities for change, we must also take a self-inventory of our own biases and how that impacts the culture of our CSU community and beyond. It’s not easy and we still have a lot of work to do, but we all have a responsibility to do our own part, and we can only succeed if we are in it together.”

Women and Gender Advocacy Center

The Women and Gender Advocacy Center also received many nominations, including this one endorsed collectively by more than 100 staff and students and 10 centers and units across campus:

“The Women and Gender Advocacy Center not only provides critical services to our students who need it most, they also unequivocally serve the entire University through their courageous, inclusive, intersectional, and value-driven leadership. We acknowledge that the WGAC has already significantly improved the culture of CSU through their efforts, and we hope that by honoring them with the President’s Council on Culture award, they will know how grateful we are as a University community to follow their lead as we commit to making CSU better for everyone in the years ahead.”

women and gender advocacy center logo

Monica Rivera, director of WGAC, said she was overwhelmed with gratitude by the nomination, and that her staff is profoundly thankful to their CSU partners who help the center create a safer and less victim-blaming culture on campus.

“Winning an award which recognizes WGAC’s impact on culture is incredibly meaningful because it acknowledges the ongoing micro and macro efforts of my team,” Rivera said. “It also acknowledges the work of our allies who address the needs of survivors in their own areas of influence on campus. So, while WGAC may have won the award, we want our colleagues to know that this has only been made possible because of their trust in us and their collaborative and, at times, brave efforts to support survivors on campus.”

Honorable Mentions

The PCC also recognized the following nominees as honorable mentions for their dedication to culture change and for embodying and modeling the Principles of Community in their work:

Honorable Mention (Group): Preclinical Surgical Research Laboratory and Orthopaedic Bioengineering Research Laboratory

  • Worked to create a mutual collaborative culture to respect, value, care, include and cheer for each other.
  • Created a system that everyone has bought into – serving as a vessel of positive change.
  • Excellent role model for units across CSU for how creating such a culture fosters success in all they do.

Honorable Mention (Group): CSU Health Network

  • On the front lines of changing culture to support student mental health and well-being. In 2018-2019 alone, they provided more than 34,000 appointments for 6,100 students.

Honorable Mention (Individual): Matt Wallenstein, department head, Soil and Crop Sciences

  • Developed an effective, collaborative approach to getting his department to work together and created an environment of mutual accountability, respect, equitable teamwork and empathy.

Honorable Mention (Individual): Marie Villescas Zamzow, instructor, School of Social Work 

  • Advancing inclusion and raising consciousness about equity and social justice, particularly with mentoring students and skills in teaching courses/creating dialogues in the School of Social Work.

“PCC created this award to recognize and celebrate individuals and units who are working hard to improve the culture of CSU,” said James. “We want to highlight the intentional work by these folks to have sustainable and demonstrable impact on culture as role models who reflect our Principles of Community, our highest values and our land-grant mission.”

About the President’s Council on Culture Award

This honor recognizes units, individuals or teams that have contributed in significant and positive ways to creating a University culture that supports excellence in fulfillment of CSU’s mission; supports the success, engagement, and advancement of all its members; embraces inclusion and diversity in all its dimensions, as essential to a robust and sustainable academic community; celebrates a culture of respect, integrity, truth, and equity as the foundation for a health campus climate; and rewards innovation, change, and disruption to norms that impede the improvement of University culture.