Travus Burton named director for civic learning at GVSU

GVL - Courtesy of
Travus Burton

GVL – Courtesy of Travus Burton

Rachel Matuszewski

Grand Valley State University’s mission is rooted in shaping students’ lives, professions and societies. Travus Burton, who has recently been named the director for civic learning and community engagement at GVSU, will be promoting that same mission in his new position. 

Burton moved from Oakland University’s Office of Student Success and Experiential Learning Center to GVSU’s Office of the Provost in Zumberge Hall. He started his role with GVSU on Tuesday, Jan. 9.

Burton took the place of Ruth Stegeman, who retired in August, after being interested in the position for nearly half a decade.

“When I found out four to five years ago that Grand Valley had a director for community engagement, I was immediately interested because this is the work that I believe in,” Burton said. “I had my eye on this position a long time ago when I found out it even existed, and I saw my career going this direction. I felt like it was the next step in my career.”

The purpose of Burton’s work is to start conversations between faculty and the community. His work provides students the opportunity to use their skills in professions outside of the classroom.

“Part of my job is to be visible in the community, to connect with partners,” Burton said. “But my job is also working through the provost office to support our faculty and staff, not just on the curricular side but also on the co-curricular side. I make connections for community partners, but I am also a connector for faculty, staff and divisions around the university—divisions that might not traditionally connect or talk or know we both have a similar interest in working with specific organizations. I might be the person that connects them together.” 

Although he does not work directly with students, Burton finds opportunities and turns them over to the faculty. This communication and engagement with the community may result in an opportunity for student internships.

“I want students to take advantage of the opportunities that we provide through community partnerships and engaged faculty,” he said. “The community can provide a context for learning abstract academic principles and what academic concepts mean in the context of our communities.”

Burton said his experience at Oakland and Central Michigan University was the main reason he was offered the position. One of Burton’s more prominent roles was his position as the president of the non-profit organization the Isabella County Restoration House. There, he helped build a homeless shelter in Mount Pleasant. The shelter was also made possible through the service of CMU students, whom he orchestrated in different classes to further the advancement of the Restoration House.

“That’s something that needed to be done that was real work for the students, and (we) couldn’t hire professionals to do any of the work,” he said. “(It was) a great opportunity for students to learn their profession by doing things through experiences and directly impacting an issue. I think those are the kind of opportunities I am looking for (in) students here, too.”

Another component of Burton’s acceptance of his new role was GVSU’s Civic Action Plan, an outline for what needs to be accomplished to increase community engagement and impact the teaching, learning, research and service conducted at GVSU. Burton seeks to interpret, support and publicize all the work students and faculty have done thus far.

Melissa Baker-Boosamra, associate director of student life for civic engagement and assessment, will be partnering with Burton. Baker-Boosamra’s work in the Office of Student Life includes organizing a range of opportunities for students. Like Burton, Baker-Boosamra connects students’ learning and service within the community. The Community Service Learning Center, where she is involved, provides students the opportunity to explore and work to understand public issues. The center has organized events such as the Democracy 101 series, the Shifting the Discourse series with the Division of Inclusion and Equity, voter registration and blood drives.

“Specifically, I’m really excited about campus voter-engagement efforts,” Baker-Boosamra said. “Those are efforts our office has been leading over the course of the past year and a half or two years, and we intend to continue leading those efforts. We are hopeful we can partner with Travus and academic units to really integrate this value of democratic engagement throughout our campus.”

Combining Burton’s new role as director for civic learning and community engagement and Baker-Boosamra’s passion for student learning, the pair hope to impact the lives of students and their future endeavors.