Feature Stories 2024: Zoi Burns '24: DEI is her "heart and soul"

Honors College political science major
Honors political science major and student leader Zoi Burns looks forward to continuing her work in diversity, equity, and inclusion following her UMass Dartmouth graduation.
Feature Stories 2024: Zoi Burns '24: DEI is her "heart and soul"
Zoi Burns '24: DEI is her "heart and soul"

Political science major advances senior leadership pipeline at their Pine Street Inn Internship

When they graduate from UMass Dartmouth in May, Zoi Burns '24 will have already built an impressive resume. Her many leadership activities and awards, combined with a major in political science and double minor in urban studies and data analytics, have prepared Burns for their chosen career focused on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives. 

Burns is off to a strong start. As chair of the DEI Committee for the Student Government Association (SGA) for the last 3 years, they launched the first ever Menstrual Equity Project, providing free menstrual products to students at UMassD. During an internship at the Pine Street Inn, New England’s largest homeless services provider, she created a DEI employee mentorship program as part of the organization’s strategic plan. She also earned a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace certification from the University of South Florida’s Office of Corporate Training and Professional Education. 

"DEI is my heart and soul. I'm so passionate about this topic that it’s become my career focus," Burns said. 

Burns has also accumulated some major awards for her leadership roles. They received the Jonathan Blake Waxler Memorial Prize for Social Justice from the Leduc Center for Civic Engagement, was named a Campus Compact 2022 Newman Civic Fellow, and received the Lamar E. Clinton Student Leadership Award, the Donald C. Howard Pillar of the Community Award, and the Frederick Douglass Unity Award. At the recent Student Leadership Awards Ceremony, Burns received the University Civic Engagement Award.

They also received the SGA Senator of the Year Award and Committee of the Year Award, along with additional academic accolades. As an Honors College student, they will graduate as a Commonwealth Scholar. 

Leduc Center Civic Leadership Awards 2023
A special moment: Zoi received the 2023 Jonathan Blake Waxler Memorial Prize for Social Justice at the Leduc Center for Civic Engagement Leadership Awards. Joining Zoe are UMassD Chancellor Mark Fuller (left) and Matthew Roy, assistant vice chancellor at the Leduc Center for Civic Engagement.

UMass Dartmouth experience  

How did you choose your major and minors? 

"I chose my major because I am very passionate about social justice and equity. The study of government philosophy and social systems expanded my passions towards advancing underrepresented populations in a different way. 

"While political science is my foundation, data analytics allows me to understand the statistical significance of disparities communities face day-to-day, and urban studies allows me to study the social systems and communities I plan to represent, uplift, and advance in my future."

One of Burns' proudest achievements is resurrecting the House of Deliberations, a biweekly program of the Frederick Douglass Unity House, which ended during the pandemic. The program offers a common ground for students to talk about social and political issues, pop culture, and current topics.  

You are involved in many campus activities; how do you manage it all?

"I have everything, including all my assignments, in my calendar. That keeps me organized. My grades are very important to me. If I stay organized, do my assignments, and ask for help when I need it, I set myself up for success. What pushes me is my passion for everything I do and everyone I do it for."

What drives you? 

“I love to communicate with people. We’re distracted by so many things that a lot of what I do is focused in the roots of human communication. I show my love to my community through communication, creating awareness, and making people feel welcome."

  What do you think makes UMassD special?

"UMassD is special because there is a consistent community of students of color who emerge and grow as leaders every year. I found myself and my own leadership ability within this community in the Frederick Douglass Unity House due to the students of color before me who paved the way and faculty who have looked out for students that look like me."

Can you describe UMassD in one word? 

"Enlightening."

Engaged Scholarship Symposium on Anti-Racist Community Engagement
Zoi was a featured speaker at the Engaged Scholarship Symposium on Anti-Racist Community Engagement.

Honors College Experience 

All Honors College students are required to complete a senior thesis or project that involves either research, service, or a performance/expression piece of work.

Can you provide a summary of your internship at the Pine Street Inn and your APEX Project?  

"I worked on organizational projects to further their 2023-26 strategic plan. Working with the director of strategic initiatives and the senior director of DEI at the Pine Street Inn, my main projects included creating a DEI pilot mentorship program outline for the organization, expanding employee resource groups, and updating the DEI intranet page. I collaborated with PSI senior leadership and Liberty Mutual representatives to pilot the mentorship program that will advance employee retention and engagement and strengthen the organization’s leadership pipeline."

"I also worked on strategic initiatives: reviewing racial equity health data and homelessness disparity data to provide personal insights, pitch analysis recommendations, and aid in further statistical analyses of large data sets. We reviewed and focused on factors affecting the homeless population. Based on the data collected, we can figure out how to best serve this population."

"I love working in collaborative environments and pushing ideas forward. It was very exciting to work with the senior director of DEI and communicate with leadership." Burns presented a summary of all PSI initiatives and her model for the organization’s mentorship program to her peers and the leadership staff at the end of her internship, and it is expected to launch this year." 

Have you had any particularly memorable experiences in the Honors College? 

"My honors advisor! Kristen Kadlec single-handedly made my college experience ten times easier, helping me through every semester. She made sure that my full college courseload, semester by semester, was planned out and organized. This made it easy for me to know that I would graduate with all of my requirements fulfilled and allowed me to pursue flexible options like Semester in the City. Kristen is my hands-down my favorite part of the Honors College. I would not be where I am today without her." 

Has your APEX Project impacted your educational experience or career goals? 

"I gained amazing experience in the field I want to pursue at Pine Street Inn. I also received great advice, mentorship, and the proper tools to complete my DEI certification following the internship."  

Future Plans 

What would you like to do in your future career?  

"Post undergrad, I would like to work in the DEI field within organizations, corporations, and/or nonprofits to advance the positions of overlooked employees and strengthen the growth of their workforce. In my future career, I plan to pursue my master's degree in organizational leadership and management to further help organizations build their strategic plans with a diverse and equitable mindset at the center." 

What advice would you give future Corsairs? 

"Take advantage of every opportunity at the university. Connect with faculty and administration to learn about opportunities, improve your professionalism, and be guided by those you may want to follow in your career path."