Meet UO Alumni Association Employee: Susan Burton

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Shortly after donning a cap and gown at her college graduation, UO alum Susan Burton decided to ship out to sub-Saharan Africa and work in HIV outreach for the Peace Corps.

Burton, who now works as the Assistant Director for Student and Alumni Relations for the UO Alumni Association, knew she wanted to join the Peace Corps after college. She had done HIV outreach while at the UO, and was accepted into the Peace Corps to work for Community Health Outreach Program (CHOP) after she applied. The program combined both of her top choices for area of work as well as her choice of ideal location. Immediately, she expressed very little hesitation for her journey to begin.

“My parents were a little concerned, but being my parents, they never told me until I was there,” Burton says.

While she was volunteering for the Peace Corps, Burton was particularly inspired by the South African motto Ubuntu—which means that a person is a person through other people. Burton explains that the people she met truly live by that style of life, and that everyone that she met would always make time for the people that surrounded them.

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Although she was originally hired to be an HIV outreach worker, she ended up mainly working with NGO (non-governmental organization) development because her organization didn’t yet have the capacity to be doing health promotion. As such, Burton spent much of her time working on building the organization to the point where they could begin their outreach program for the following year.

During her second year, however, she ended up doing similar fieldwork because the program let go of their entire management due to misappropriation of funds. Burton ended up training and hiring new staff for her second year before she moved to the capital city for her third year, focusing mostly on hiring a volunteer from the Peace Corps ready to do health promotion and training care.

Burton’s favorite work during her 38-month commitment was her job while working at schools. There, she focused on after school programs, youth camps and various day-to-day office tasks and assignments.

“A lot of Peace Corps volunteers feel that their main contribution was through changing the lives of the children that they worked with,” Burton says.

While much of the impact made by Peace Corps volunteers are not detectable until long after the volunteers have left, her favorite memories from the trip include daily visits from a group of about six to eight children. The group would come to her house to work on homework and watch movies; their favorites were X-Men and Transformers, and they were particularly obsessed with Wolverine.

The children, and all of the other villagers in Makhushane, called her Karabo—which translates to “The Answer” in their local dialect.

“When you name someone that, it’s because you’ve been praying for something for a long time and they’re the answer to your prayers,” Burton explains. “So, not much to live up to at all.”

After working with kids, Burton also realized that many of the children in South Africa have very similar interests to the children in America: they enjoy hanging out with friends, talking on the phone and playing video games.

While her service with the Peace Corps finished in April 2013, Burton and a friend spent three months traveling through ten countries in Southern and Eastern Africa. The purpose of the trip was to interview youth from each nation, and they now have eighty interviews archived. Her favorite interview that she conducted was with a young man that, upon graduating high school, opened and now successfully operates the first Internet Café in his village.

Today, Burton is in the process of pitching the compilation of stories to an e-book publisher in Scotland, with the hopes of marketing their product to schools across the world.

Burton explains that one of the most valuable lessons she learned on the trip also applies for much of the work she now does for the UO Alumni Association, where she works to help students create a lifelong connection to the UO. Working with students, she says, many are often be sidetracked with midterms or the various crises of being a college student.

“One of the things I really learned was flexibility,” says Burton. “You realize that you just have to go with the flow, because nothing is going to work out how you wanted it to.”

Meet Eugene Weekly Arts & Culture Editor: Alex Notman

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As the arts and culture editor for the Eugene Weekly since September 2012, Alex Notman has truly immersed herself in a beat that she’s passionate about.

Her most fascinating interviews include the creative director from The Black Panther Party, the lead singer from Beach House (which didn’t exactly go well) and Ryan Lewis from Macklemore. “Nothing can replace good preparation for an interview,” Notman says. “Research, research, research.”

While she earned her undergraduate degree in French and International Studies from University of Minnesota Duluth, her goal was always to move to the Pacific Northwest. Notman doubled as a waitress and as a copywriter in Minnesota for a travel agency before relocating.

“I really loved the writing and research aspect of my job,” Notman says. “But I was turned off by having to fluff things up for the corporate travel agency.”

Notman came to Eugene to pursue her professional master’s degree in journalism at the UO in 2009. When she received an extravagant invitation to a “steam punk” party on a farm with a strict costume code, however, she began to fall in love with her new home. Her story about the experience was later converted and published as a cover for Eugene Weekly, where she consistently submitted freelance work for nearly two years.

Eugene Weekly also published her final project for graduate school, which explored human rights conditions for female veterans. She later worked as the project manager at EMU Marketing, co-produced the documentary Meet Me At The SU (2013) and completed internships at West Lane News and Seattle Metropolitan Magazine. At the UO, she was a designer for Flux Stories and the creative director for Ethos Magazine.

“I learned how to motivate a group of people and how to marry images with words,” she says. “It gave me insight to all parts of the paper, not just the text.”

Notman says that she has been an artist for as long as she can remember and was exposed to art from her father and grandmother. In fact, she nearly applied to graduate school for curatorial studies for museums. Notman believes that Eugene would benefit from having a more polished and competitive art scene. In the next few years, her goal is to be an artist as well as a journalist in town.

“It is a really difficult industry,” Notman says. “You have to be better than everyone else that’s around you.”