A video telling the story of Arkansas Tech University alumnus Eric Burnett has captured the most prestigious award bestowed by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).
“Our CASE Circle of Excellence Awards celebrate the creative, resourceful and innovative ways advancement professionals around the globe champion their institutions’ success,” said Sue Cunningham, CASE chief executive officer and president. “Advancement has never been more important to support and strengthen education. These 2022 Circle of Excellence recipients — from institutions and teams of all sizes and shapes, from regions across the world — showcase how advancement empowers teaching and learning, ignites institutional progress, and helps communities thrive.”
Creation of the CASE Circle of Excellence Award-winning video was led by Ryan Taylor, ATU MARCOMM video production manager, with support from additional members of the MARCOMM team.
Taylor holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in broadcast journalism from ATU and has served on the staff at his alma mater since 2005.
“The makers of this video chose an exciting story to highlight and did a great job filming various aspects of Eric’s life,” wrote the CASE judges in their assessment of the project. “We appreciated that the video was used for both an admissions audience and an alumni audience.”
One of 13 children raised by a single mother, Burnett read on an eighth-grade level when he arrived at Arkansas Tech in 1989.
Kristine Melton Brooks was working in ATU’s student development center at that time. She was assigned to help Burnett make the academic transition to college-level course work.
“I saw in Eric a desire to succeed, and also a desire not to fail,” said Brooks. “He was not going back to Fort Smith without his college degree.”
Burnett achieved that goal and many others. He became an All-America student-athlete on the Wonder Boys basketball team, an ATU graduate and a successful coach, teacher and mentor in the school districts at Fort Smith, Springdale and then Fort Smith again, where today he serves as head boys’ basketball coach at Northside High School.
He has led the Grizzlies to two state championships.
Burnett gave back to Arkansas Tech by accepting two appointments (2011-16 and 2017-22) to serve on the ATU Board of Trustees. He was chairman of the board in 2015 and 2021.
During his second term on the board, he helped Arkansas Tech develop and enact a campus master plan, achieve significant gains in its graduation rate, reaffirm its accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission and gain recognition from U.S. News and World Report as the No. 1 regional, public university in Arkansas.
“As those of us who have been fortunate enough to know him will tell you, Eric’s heart is not as much in wins and losses as it is in showing young people the potential that exists within them,” said ATU Board of Trustees member Stephanie Duffield of Russellville, who succeeded Burnett as chairman. “By authentically sharing his life story, Eric proves to each of us that anything is possible when we blend hard work and determination with kindness and compassion.”