"My hope is that these new facilities will create an engaging environment for students who wish to pursue careers in these fields and allow them to gain valuable experience working in settings that mirror what they will find after graduation"

– alumna Susan Walk Burnett 

Gift Creates New Addition in Kimpel Hall for Journalism, Student Media

Gift Creates New Addition in Kimpel Hall for Journalism, Student Media

Gift Creates New Addition in Kimpel Hall for Journalism, Student Media

by Jennifer Holland

University of Arkansas students involved with the Department of Journalism and student media will have a new venue created for them in Kimpel Hall, thanks to a gift from alumna Susan Walk Burnett and her husband, Rusty Burnett, of Houston. The couple has pledged $1 million for a new addition to the second floor of Kimpel Hall that will include an integrated newsroom where students from all journalism disciplines will converge. A new UATV television studio will also open to a view of one of the busiest hubs on campus.

The addition will be named the Susan Walk Burnett Journalism and Student Media Center in honor of the donors, subject to the Board of Trustees’ approval.

“The Department of Journalism means a great deal to me, and I am thrilled that we can contribute to its continued success with this gift,” Sue Burnett said. “My hope is that these new facilities will create an engaging environment for students who wish to pursue careers in these fields and allow them to gain valuable experience working in settings that mirror what they will find after graduation.”

The Walter J. Lemke Department of Journalism is currently located in Kimpel Hall, which was opened in 1973 as the Communications Classroom Building. In 1983, the building was given its current name to honor the memory of Ben D. Kimpel, professor of English, who died that same year.

The addition to the building will be located outside the front doors of Kimpel, facing McIlroy Avenue and Founders Hall, and will cost approximately $2 million. Thanks to the Burnett gift, the project will be fully funded, and construction will begin in the summer of 2017.

Todd Shields, dean of the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, which includes the Department of Journalism, said this gift will be transformational for both Kimpel Hall and the university’s journalism students.

“Thanks to the Burnetts’ generosity, this gift will enhance the way our students learn journalism in a very tangible and incredible way that will immediately connect our students to the technology they’ll use throughout their careers,” Shields said. “It is also incredibly meaningful and motivating for our students to see such a successful alumna investing in their futures.”

Larry Foley, who serves as the chair of the Department of Journalism, agreed and added, “The Burnetts are our heroes. The updated student media center will include a TV studio, with a backdrop that has a live view of campus – like the Today Show. It will be incredible.”

Foley said the center will also feature a digital newsroom that will serve as the hub for all student news gathering on campus – merging newspaper, social media and television news operations.

“Student media is where students practice the lessons they are learning in their classrooms,” he said. “And this gift will elevate the University of Arkansas to a status matching some of the top Journalism schools in the country.”

Additionally, the Department of Journalism and the Division of Student Affairs have worked together closely to bring several national and international journalists to campus in recent years, including Gene Forman, Deborah Potter and Bob Woodward. The Center for Ethics in Journalism was also established in 2013, and a record number of students are now involved in media programs on campus. Students and faculty from the programs have won national and regional awards from the Seedling Film Association, the Arkansas Press Association, the Broadcast Education Association, the William Randolph Hearst Foundation and the Mid-America Emmys.

“The Division of Student Affairs is very happy to partner with the Department of Journalism and the Fulbright College to better support the academic and professional development of our students,” said Charles Robinson, vice chancellor for student affairs. “We are also very grateful to have generous benefactors like Sue and Rusty Burnett, who understand the empowering importance of philanthropy to our educational mission.”

Sue Walk Burnett grew up in El Dorado and has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Fulbright College. As a student, she was secretary of Chi Omega Sorority and co-editor of the Razorback yearbook in 1968.

Today, she is the president and founder of Burnett Specialists, a $70 million staffing and placement firm with 10 offices in Houston, Austin, San Antonio and
El Paso, and Choice Specialists in Dallas. Burnett and her husband did an Employee Stock Ownership Plan for their company in 2010. It is now the largest employee-owned staffing firm in Texas and second largest in the U.S. She and her company have won many awards in the past 42 years, including being named the No. 1 placement firm and No. 2 temporary staffing firm in Houston by the Houston Business Journal and the Pinnacle Award winner by the Better Business Bureau.

Burnett was named Texas Business Woman of the Year by the Texas Women’s Chamber of Commerce, National Enterprising Woman of the Year by the Enterprising Women Magazineand Outstanding Entrepreneur of the Year by the National Association of Women Business Owners, Inspire Women, Houston Technology Center and the Women Business Enterprise Alliance. She was also honored by Junior Achievement in their Hall of Achievement. The Burnetts were named Entrepreneurs of the Year in 1998 by Ernst and Young. 

Sue Burnett serves on the Board of Directors for Junior Achievement and the Better Business Bureau and is on the Board of Trustees for Goodwill.

At the University of Arkansas, Burnett has supported the journalism department by creating scholarships for journalism students and funding the Reading Room in Kimpel Hall, which was named after her in 1999. She was honored as a Distinguished Alumna in 2007 and will be honored in the Department of Journalism Hall of Fame in October. Burnett is an A+ Life Member of the Arkansas Alumni Association.

About the Department of Journalism: The Walter J. Lemke Department of Journalism offers specialized concentrations in news/editorial, advertising/public relations, and broadcast. Students are trained in writing news, analyzing media, planning campaigns, producing television programs and basic photojournalism publishing. The department offers special interdisciplinary options, various student media organizations, award-winning faculty and a Center for Ethics in Journalism.

About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among only 2 percent of universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.

Jennifer Holland

About the author

Jennifer Holland serves as director of development communications for the University of Arkansas.