Staff Spotlight: David Burney

Staff Spotlight: David Burney

By Jay Nickel
6/7/2021 8:15:00 PM

David Burney, director of financial aid, has been on the campus of John Brown University since he was a freshman in 2004. Being an integral part of a student’s development journey is what he finds most rewarding about his role in the financial aid office, and he continues to volunteer with the music and theatre department as a staff member. He finds a way to balance his time between work and being a husband to his wife, Emily, and a dad to his two toddlers, and he shares how it is perfectly fine to be caught in the act of being human.

What do you find most rewarding about your role in the financial aid office?

Most people would think that the most rewarding part about working in the financial aid office would be watching a student graduate – helping people achieve their goals and dreams. Yes! This is a motivating factor that contributes to me getting out of bed in the morning. However, the most rewarding part is being able to witness the moment when students believe in themselves. Being an integral part in someone’s development journey is humbling and truly special.

How has financial aid had to adapt because of the Effect COVID-19 had on prospective and current students?

We have been fortunate that a majority of the financial aid process was already held online pre-COVID. We did, however, have a somewhat large learning curve in learning to facilitate the financial aid process, which is very customer-service oriented, while working from home. We have also had to adapt to increased workload that COVID-19 has caused for our office. Over the past year, we have facilitated the disbursement of the Fill the Gap Fund (thanks to MANY donors) as well as the JBU At Home program along with multiple Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund distributions from the federal government.

What are two things this last year taught you?

First and foremost, I have learned that it is perfectly fine when you are “caught in the act of being human.” The hours have been long and the stress has been high. Some days there is frustration and some days there are tears. As a society, we are encouraged to hide our emotions because they are uncalled for or inappropriate. I believe as Christians living in community with one another, we are called to engage with the “whole” person. I have been extremely blessed by friends and co-workers who have stopped to pray or to provide Diet Dr. Pepper. It is a blessing to be truly seen by others. I tend to be an optimist by nature, but I can have the occasional “doom and gloom” day. Lately, those have been more frequent than I like to admit. I was recently encouraged by co-worker/friend (Dr. Gary Oliver) that there will be times that we must choose “defiant joy.” The Lord's mercies are new every morning.

What were three of your most memorable moments as a student?

1) Participating in the annual Candlelight Service as a member of the Cathedral Choir. Countless hours of rehearsal lead to a single moment of pause – lifting your candle during the final verse of "Silent Night." It still brings tears to my eyes.

2) This is somewhat quirky, but I still remember the way that Dr. Jan Wubbena would sit “criss-cross applesauce” on his desk during theory class. Also, the music department has an odd musty smell that strangely brings me comfort.

3) Chapel was a regular part of my weekly schedule, even after my attendance requirement had been fully met. At first, chapel was slightly uncomfortable. I had never been in an environment where there were so many people who had come from different background or worship styles. I was challenged and stretched, but chapel quickly became one of the most special parts of my JBU experience.

What are the top three reasons you chose to attend JBU as a student?

1) Community – I was originally introduced to JBU through my cousin who was a JBU Cheerleader. She brought me to a Toilet Paper Game, and I was hooked.

2) Feeling of acceptance – I was accepted into the music department and felt strongly welcomed by the faculty and staff.

3) Felt like home – although it might be somewhat cliché, I knew the moment that I visited campus that JBU was where I needed to be. I strongly felt the presence of the Lord, and JBU felt like home.

What made you pursue a master’s in higher education?

According to the StrengthsFinder assessment, “learner” is one of my top strengths. Based on my incredible experience at JBU as a student, I had an interest in learning more about higher education from an administrative perspective.

How do you juggle being a husband, dad to two toddlers and work?

To be completely honest, some days are better than others. This past year has been extremely difficult, but I have learned to manage somewhat through the art of practicing presence. When I am at work, I work to be present with my co-workers and focus on the task at hand. When I am home, I focus my presence on my wife and my kiddos. In consideration of everything that has happened this past year, there have been a lot of sacrifices on both parts. There are some days where the hours are long and the to-do list at work seems endless. My family patiently supports me through the ups and the downs. Same with work: my team in the financial aid office understands when I must pop out for a recital or leave early for a birthday party.

What’s a book (Besides the Bible) that has changed your life and how?

I would highly recommend Necessary Endings by Dr. Henry Cloud. Through the book, I was reminded of the parable of “The Vine and the Branches” as described in John 15 in the fact there are times when pruning is necessary. When done well, “necessary endings” allow us to reduce pain and even foster growth. When stretching ourselves too thin, we do not function as our best – this can result in lost opportunities or frustration.

You were involved in music and theatre as a student. Why do you continue to volunteer with the productions and what do you do?

I choose to continue to participate for a couple of reasons. My job, surprising though it may be, can be somewhat detail focused and stressful. It is nice to use the creative side of my brain – it helps me relax. Also, I had the privilege of performing with Liesl Dromi (the current director of musical theatre) during our college days, and she is incredible to work with. I created the dance choreography for Hello Dolly and most recently I have designed the hair/wigs and makeup for Big Fish and Little Women. A fun fact: Liesl tries to fit a “cameo appearance” for me into every show, so there is no telling where you will see me next!

How do you relieve stress?

I really enjoy cooking and working out – somehow the two hobbies have learned to peacefully coexist with each other. I push out the stress by throwing heavy weights around. Working out also proves to be extremely beneficial physically, emotionally and spiritually. I cook just for fun and because I love to eat. I truly enjoy learning to cook both Thai and Indian food.

Why did you join the JBU staff after graduating?

To be honest, I was searching for a job post-graduated to pay the bills. My original plans of attending graduate school right after college did not pan out. For whatever reason, Kim Eldridge took a chance on me, and I am still here!

How did you and your wife Emily meet?

We originally met at JBU, when I was a senior on the Student Orientation team and Emily was an incoming freshman. We got to know each other several years later when she was working in the admissions office one summer. I do remember a specific instance when several enrollment employees were sitting around the conference table during a lunch break. During the lunch break, Emily and I accidentally dominated the conversation by talking about everything that we were interested in or passionate about. I believe it frustrated one of our co-workers as she stood up from the table in a huff and said, “gosh, you both should just date.” The rest is history.

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