Without thinking about it, Melissa Burlingame uses words such as “cultivate” and “grow” as she talks about one of her favorite parts of working at NIU – mentoring students.
Those words are fitting for Burlingame – the assistant director for the Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability and Energy – because of how they apply to getting the most out of young minds, as well as our natural resources.
“When I work with students, I am motivated to be the best possible resource for them to excel in their NIU career and beyond,” she said. “The fact that I am passionate about the environment and work with students studying the environment is a win-win situation.”
Burlingame’s connection to the natural world goes back to getting her hands dirty while digging in her grandmother’s garden as a kid, and the interest carried on through middle school and beyond. A dedicated Huskie, Burlingame has been a student or an employee at NIU since 1998, earning three degrees along the way.
“I am vested in making sure NIU is the best possible place for students, staff and faculty,” she said, adding it is fulfilling and special to be a graduate who remains connected to the university.
In her current role, Burlingame oversees the undergraduate Environmental Studies program, teaches courses and connects students with engaged learning opportunities. She also chairs the NIU Green Team and helps lead the NIU Communiversity Gardens.
She particularly enjoys working with students on independent projects in which they focus on practical skills, while adding it’s “awesome” to see someone find their niche as a freshman and blossom over their college career. Burlingame said the learning is a two-way street because she’s always picking up new information from students.
Burlingame’s far-reaching impact garnered her a 2016 Presidential Award for Excellence.
“She helped me develop the Institute to what it is today,” Director Melissa Lenczewski wrote in nominating Burlingame for the recognition. “It is not just an undergraduate major, but a fully integrated program for students and the community. She is student-centered and works tirelessly for them. I could not be the director without her.”