Interview with Sybil K. Burgess, January 26, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Interviewee: Burgess, Sybil K. Interviewer: Riggins, Adina Date of Interview: 1/26/2007 Series: Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length: 120 minutes
Burgess: I've been a professor here at UNCW for about 21 years. I came in 1982, Spring semester of 1982. I came as a part-time instructor at that point. And Jack Levy hired me to teach Chemistry Labs. They had a professor that had left in the middle of the semester and they needed someone to do this Chemistry Labs part-time, so I came in part-time. And then, in the fall of '82, I was full-time, '82-'83, and then the next fall my position was made into a tenured track position. So I kind of came in that way.
Riggins: Great. We will get into your UNCW days in just a little while, but first I would like to back up and ask where were you born, and where did you grow up?
Burgess: I was born on a tobacco farm in Randolph County, between Ramseur and Siler City. My daddy had horses and so I've always been around horses. My mother was bookkeeper in a bank. And there were four of us children and we grew up on a farm, which made most of us want to get an education so we didn't have to do all that hard work.
Riggins: I understand that. I can understand that. Great.
Burgess: When someone would ask me about writing grants or something at UNCW, and they would say it was going to take a long time to do it, and I would say, "Well, can I do it inside and in the air conditioning?" And they would say yes, and then I'd say that's fine, it's no problem. (crew talk)
Riggins: We're back, you were talking about how you grew up on a tobacco farm. Did you have siblings?
Burgess: I did. I had an older brother and an older sister, and a younger brother growing up.
Riggins: And how many stayed in farming?
Burgess: Well, I actually had some deaths in my family. My older sister and my older brother died when they were in their late 20's, early 30's. My older brother was going to be a farmer, so he was in farming. My younger brother and I both went to college and we didn't stay in farming.
Riggins: Just typical for that generation. So there was a busy time of year around the fall, I'm sure?
Burgess: That's right. And an interesting thing, too, is none of us, except for my older brother, ever smoked. We raised the tobacco-my father smoked, my daddy smoked, but I think we were in the tobacco so much that we just didn't have any desire to actually smoke ourselves.
Riggins: What was your role as a child on the farm? You worked on it, you said? Because you were used to farm work, right?
Burgess: Right. Well, when it was time to put the tobacco in, then everybody had to help with that, and the children, when we were little, we would work at the barn, and you would pick up the leaves and hand the leaves to the ladies that would be tying them on the stick. My brother, since he was a boy, he was only a year younger than I am, but he would go out with the men in the field, and Daddy would put him on the tractor, and he would drive the tractor up and down the rows and stuff. Now, that was just in August-September that we were involved in that. My brothers were involved with it from the beginning of the season until the end of the season. I was only involved with it at the very beginning of the season and at the end. My brothers were involved the whole time. So the other time I'd be doing things around the house, helping Mama, I'd be helping with the cooking, or helping with picking vegetables from the garden. Or she would pick things in the morning, and then she would leave me with a lot of peas to shell, or butter beans to shell, and I'd sit there and shell butter beans and stuff, and then when she came in, she would be freezing them, or canning them, and I might be helping her with that some, but mainly I would be the one-I'd be sitting there all day shelling butter beans and peas, and then when she came home from work, she'd be the one that would put them up and stuff. We had a good life, though. It was a lot of stuff, but my family was very supportive of us. My mother worked really hard. I'm fortunate to still have her. My daddy has passed away. And Daddy worked hard, too. They both worked hard to try to give us a better life and a good life. Mother would get up in the morning and set the kitchen table out for us to eat, and have everything laid out, and then she'd be cooking breakfast and calling us to get up. I was one of those kids that liked to stay up late studying, and so I'd be sleepy in the mornings, and she'd be calling me, "Come eat, come eat, come eat," while she was scrambling eggs, and still get to work on time, and get all of us there, and come home and do stuff.
Riggins: But she worked outside?
Burgess: She worked outside the home, too, and kept the business stuff going for the farm, and then worked outside the home and came in. Fortunately, I've lived long enough that I've been able to go and tell her how amazing I think all that is because, when you're in the middle of it as a child, you don't realize it. You don't realize how much she's doing to keep everything going. My older sister and I were very close and I would get her hand-me-downs. She was eight years older than me. And we'd go to school and some of the kids would say-they were still-the clothes still looked okay, but the kids would say, "Oh, is that one of Diane's dresses," or something. But there would be one time of year, or excuse me, twice a year, one time a season, that my mother would take me shopping for a new dress. So I got at least one dress a season that was bought just for me. And so that was a special thing that I remember. We weren't poor, but it didn't seem to be practical for me not to wear my sister's hand-me-downs when they were still good clothes. But I would have one outfit in the fall and one outfit in the spring that my mother had gone shopping with me to pick out. We were all made to feel special because we were all special, and we all had different talents, and different places in the family, but we all were special and we all felt special, say. We had that love, that support and stuff. It was a good life. Still is a good life.
Riggins: And that you're in Randolph County, did you say?
Burgess: I grew up in Randolph County, right.
Riggins: Near Siler City?
Burgess: Yeah. The Siler City is in Chatham, so my mother is still on the farm, and so it is between Siler City and Ramsuer, in that area, kind of on the border. I always loved school when I was a kid, loved, I was one of these little nerdy kids that just loved to go to school, and loved to read books. And when they couldn't find me somewhere, I'd be sitting in the corner reading a book, and that kind of thing. So in the summer, I was lonely for my friends at school because it was only five miles to get to town and, of course, we had cars and stuff to take us to town, it wasn't that long ago, but we had so many things going on that my parents didn't take me over just to see a friend because, you know, you could see them when school started back. And so I had my church friends, and the church friends actually were from Chatham County, and I didn't go to school with them. So I had plenty of friends, but I'd always miss my friends from school, and I'd always be so excited when school started back because I'd get to see them. And I had wanted back then, when I was a little kid, to live in town so I could have somebody that lived next door to me, that I could just walk over and see. But consequently, I played with my brother a lot. And he had to do the same. He had a little friend next door. He had a friend that he could go see through the woods, and I always was very jealous of that because I didn't have a girlfriend that I could go see, you know, through the woods and stuff. But you would think five miles is not that far, but we were involved on the farm, and so you just-you didn't just go visit those kids when you had to be home doing stuff and everything.
Riggins: And probably when your friends discovered where you lived, they thought it was great that you had horses, right?
Burgess: Oh, yes. Well, we had horses and, when I was a child, we would go for all these horseback rides as a family. And my older brother and sister-my older sister was not into it as much as the rest of us, but she would go, and my mother was not into it quite as much as the rest of us. Now I know she wasn't because she was the mother, and she was having to do all these things I just described. But she would go when we went on these family rides because my brother and I would go and we were the little ones. And we would go all back through the woods, and you could ride then and go from our house, and maybe go 10 or 15 miles, and just go from one person's back pasture to another person's back pasture, and come up to their house and visit with them. And we would do that on Sunday afternoons, oh, quite frequently. I wanted to do it every Sunday afternoon. But I imagine it was a big undertaking because you had to get six horses saddled up, and everybody safe, and everybody riding.
Riggins: Drinks or whatever you needed .
Burgess: Right. Well, you know, we never brought any drinks is the funny thing. We never did that. We just-we would ride, and I guess you drank before you left, and then if you got thirsty, you pulled into somebody's house, you might get some water or something. But it wasn't-we didn't bring a lot of snacks with us when we did it. You would think so, because these days you wouldn't think of going anywhere without drinks and snacks and stuff. But we didn't. But now days, you can't do that as easily because there are more fences and people are more closed off and more careful. And I would not be comfortable riding up in somebody's backyard.
Riggins: Unless you knew them.
Burgess: Yeah. But back then, people-you knew people. And they'd be, "Oh, there comes," my daddy's name was C.H. and my mother Hilda May, "There's C.H. and Hilda May coming." Then you'd just ride up and you might sit on the horse and talk, or you might-usually you would just sit on the horse and talk a little bit on the back porch, and you'd go riding somewhere else. But those days are gone because you just don't go riding through the woods anymore like that, without kind of knowing.
Riggins: Yeah, just on your property if you have a horse farm.
Burgess: Yeah. Yes, my friends, they just thought it was wonderful I had all these horses. And then, when I got to be a teenager, I did not think it was cool to ride a horse, so I kind of didn't want to do it anymore. But my friends at school would say, "I can't believe you have all these horses and you don't ride." And then I got so, as I got to be an adult, I got back to it and got into it, and now I have horses of my own.
Riggins: It's great exercise, isn't it?
Burgess: It is, it is. And great exercise taking care of them, too. So they've always been sort of a part -- those animals have always been sort of a part of my parallel life, if you will.
Riggins: Parallel to academics.
Burgess: Yeah, academics, right.
Riggins: Sounds like it. Part of your life and your family. Well, what was your education like, both when you-well, growing up, you said you loved school. What did you do after high school?
Burgess: After high school, I went to Meredith College. I decided that I wanted to be a music major for some unknown reason, I think because I liked my music teacher in high school. I went to Meredith in part because, when they had the campus recruiting at my high school, the Meredith recruiter was very friendly and was very engaging. And I had decided I was going to go to Chapel Hill. I'd already applied to Chapel Hill and I was going to go to Chapel Hill. But the recruiter from Chapel Hill, basically, I went to talk to him at the college day, and he put his briefcase down on the table and asked me to watch his brief case while he went to get something. And he just didn't come back. Well, eventually I guess he came back, but I stood there and stood there watching this man's briefcase, you know. I don't know, maybe he didn't like his job or something, I don't know. But the Meredith recruiter was very friendly and told me exactly how I should do things, and it was smaller, and I remember thinking, "I'm never going to go to a Women's college, never, never, never, never." But I did. And I really enjoyed it.
Riggins: What was the name of your high school?
Burgess: My high school was Eastern Randolph High School. It was a consolidated high school and we were the first class to consolidate, so we had five little schools that came together for the first time, some interesting little dynamics there, too. So I enjoyed Meredith, enjoyed Meredith a whole lot, and my Meredith class ring right here.
Riggins: So you stayed there?
Burgess: Yeah, I stayed there. I loved it.
Riggins: It turns out you liked the all women educational setting?
Burgess: I did. I did. I liked that, particularly back in the 70's. Even now, Meredith is all women. And I think there is still a place for that. I don't know if Meredith will ever go co-ed because I don't know that most of the alumni would want them to. They've got a lot of strong support from their alumnae, not alumni, alumnae. And I did meet my first husband -- I've been married twice, divorced and then re-married later, but my first husband was a student at North Carolina State, Lindsey Miller, and we met at church. So there was interaction between Meredith and State, and still is. So it wasn't without male companionship. But I'd majored in Biology and Chemistry, started out in Music. I tell my students that people say sometimes that you can do anything you want to do, but, see, that's not true, that really is not true. You can do a lot more than you think you can do, but there are some things you can't do. Some things, I can do, someone else can't do; and some of the things other people can do, that I can't do. And I found that out the first time at Meredith when I was majoring in Music. And I was a piano major, and I struggled with it. And I worked hard because I was such a hardworking little girl. And I worked so hard at it. And I just really could not play the pieces like someone else could play them. And I would hear them playing in the practice room, and they would be playing the same thing that I would be practicing, right? And I would be going, "da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da", a little Scarlotti Sonata, I think it is, and someone else would be going, "Da da da bup," you know, and I would work and work, and I just hit a wall and couldn't do it. Several horror stories that year, as far as my performances and recitals we had to do, and blanking on the stage and stuff. And I had to take biology as an elective, and I got in that biology class and I thought, "Wow, this is neat!" This is neat. At our high school, we had not done anything with microscopes back then. We'd done everything just-they weren't well-equipped at the time, and I saw a live cell, an elodea cell, for the first time under a microscope, and saw the chloroplasts moving around. It is something we do now in biology, it's a real standard thing, but it just really excited me. And I thought, "This is cool. I like this." So I just changed. I still accompanied one of my friends for her voice lessons and I still sang in the choral, but I switched to biology. And I always was a kid that wanted to know why things happened, and my teacher, Dr. Clara Bunn, she had gotten a PhD in microbiology at North Carolina State, and a Masters in Biochemistry. And she was my mentor. Dr. Clara Bunn, B-U-N-N. And I would go talk to her about things. And I wouldn't be satisfied with the answers until we got kind of down to the chemistry level, and that's when I knew that I wanted to-well, didn't know, really, but I just knew that biochemistry interested me. So I went on from Meredith. I was married at the time to my first husband. We lived there in Raleigh. And I went on to State and got my PhD in Biochemistry in the same department that she had gotten her Masters in, so she knew some of the people, and I didn't do it necessarily the right way. I didn't apply anywhere else. I just applied where she thought I should go.
Riggins: Why would that be the wrong way?
Burgess: I don't know. I mean, today you say, you know, keep your options open and whatever, but my husband was working in Raleigh, Longtown in Raleigh, and he was in school there, too. Anyway, it worked out. So my PhD is from North Carolina State in Biochemistry. I had a minor in Microbiology, so I sort of did a flip from what she did. I don't have a Masters. Back then, and even now, a lot of people go right straight from a Bachelor's to a PhD. And so that's what I did. So that's the academic. Even though now I'm 54-years-old, now I'm thinking that it would be kind of neat to go back and get a Masters since I don't have one-in something. Just in something.
Riggins: Maybe something completely different.
Burgess: Just something, something I could do, you know, since I just don't have that in between thing.
Riggins: What was your research on for your PhD?
Burgess: My research was on purification and characterization of horse serum buterol cholinesterase. It actually was a comparison of horse serum buterol cholinesterase and human serum buterol cholinesterase. So your titles are always these real technical things. It involved toxicology. My research adviser, Dr. Russell Maine, who has passed away now, was funded with a toxicology grant to do his research, and so these enzymes are enzymes that are targeted by nerve gases, and so we had isolated some of the first ones from these organisms and were looking at their physical and chemical structure, and what their biochemical structure was like. A lot of the things we were doing back then, because my own degree was in '75, that's not right, my degree was in '81, it started in '75. That's one of those things that some of my colleagues here, what they'll do, not remember the dates, right? Started in '75, finished in '81. But back then, the things that we could do are easier to do now because there are techniques and stuff that we use now, that we didn't have back then. So our whole thesis was on characterizing these two enzymes, and comparing them, whereas now that probably would be done a lot easier because of equipment and stuff that's available now. But it's neat to, now, when I teach these things, I can say to my students, "Well, listen, when I was coming through," which is where you probably wanted to go anyway, "we had to do it this way, and this way, and this way," whereas now you just, like this, easy. You see the evolution of stuff. My research advisor, Russ Maine, was a very brilliant man, a very- what's the word-emotional man, that's not exactly the word I want to use, but eccentric man is what I want to say, eccentric person, hard to get along with, hard to work with. When he came in-and your research advisor was your boss, your total boss, because he could decide whether you're going to actually get your degree or not, and you're working in his lab. When he came in and his hair was still wet, you wanted to really stay away from him because that meant that he had not gotten up in time to-he just rushed in and his hair was still wet from the shower. But we learned his little moods and stuff.
Riggins: So he was moody?
Burgess: Oh, he was moody. He's passed away now. But he wore the same clothes every day, but they were clean. And we know that he'd wear them for six months. He'd wear the same clothes for six months. He'd wear jeans and a polo shirt. Okay? And we know it was like, "Are these the same clothes, or not?" But they would be the same clothes because you would look, you know, it was like a little game, because there were other people in the lab, too, his students in the lab group I was in. And if he had a little acid burn or something from-you know, it would be in the same place, so it wasn't like he had like a whole bunch of these. But then he would wear them for six months, or so, and then he'd come in with a new outfit.
Riggins: That would be the talk of the lab?
Burgess: Yeah, yes, that's right. "Dr. Maine has got new clothes today." Right? Then there would be another six months-always clean, so I'm sure he just went home, you know, cleaned up, and everything, then put them on clean, and I don't know. He was very eccentric. But I cared about him a great deal and he was a very tender man in many ways, and I got to be very close to him, and a very, very brilliant person. He would say, but very blunt, and here I was this little shy thing from Meredith College, and there I was in this real blunt man's world all of a sudden, and he would look at me and he'd say, "Your brain is a blank slate. You know nothing." And you'd just have to sit and then he would start writing stuff on a little blackboard about our project or something, but it would scare me back then because I was still very young. But I learned so much from him, you know, not really the best way of teaching, but yet-
Riggins: It sounds like he enjoyed it, though, performing and scaring people, and all that?
Burgess: He did. And what he was saying is, in a way I do the same thing with my students now in a little different way, is that you think you know so much when you're 20-years-old, 21-years-old, or even in your early 20's, but there's so much to learn. And I knew that I really wanted-now, you can have a PhD, or you can be a PhD, and I knew that I was a PhD person when I got my, defended my thesis, and I realized I really didn't know very much. I had that feeling because you open the door to this little bit that you know, that they're going to say, "Now we're going to put the doctor title on the end." And then, because you've opened that door, you see all the stuff out there that there is to know, or that we don't know. And so he was like that. He taught me how to work hard. Of course, I knew that from the farm stuff anyway. The farm stuff probably prepared me for him. But he taught me how to work hard in the lab, how to be careful about things, careful about my lab book, he was very particular about things, so he taught me some really, really essential lab skills. And so I'm very appreciative of him for that. So that was Dr. Maine.
Riggins: It sounds like the lab work is a lot of ways like libraries; it's changed a lot over the years, there are certain schools and standards that you had to adhere to then that, now, it's different, but you still have standards.
Burgess: You'll get a kick out of this. This may be off what you want to talk about, but you'll get a kick out of this, about my graduate work stuff. I needed to sort of impress Dr. Maine a little bit because he was a little bit sexist, too, to say the least. He liked me, but I was a woman, so he wasn't sure whether I was really going to make it or not, you know, so I had always battled that with him. So one of the things my advisor friend from Meredith, who kind of was behind the scenes with me about this, she gave me a few little things to do to kind of get the right image going with him. And one of the things was, I lived across the road, was when I go home, to go through the library, go through the D. H. Hill Library, and of course I would use the library, too, so it wasn't just-but always, always would go through it so he would think I was going to the library, okay? But one of the things was to do a computer search on similar topics. And back then, so we're talking now-my degree was the late 70's right into the 80's, or late 70's, so I did a computer search, right? And back then, you go to the librarian and you give them your words. You don't do it yourself. You don't go up on the computer and do anything, you just give the words. And you guys match up the words, and then you get us like a computer sheet like this long of the articles that fit with that. Then you can go into the stacks and get the articles. Then you come down from the stacks with a bound volume and you go to the Xerox in the library, and you have them Xerox and usually leave the bound article with them.
Riggins: Oh, they have to Xerox it.
Burgess: And they had to Xerox it.
Riggins: The student workers or somebody, maybe?
Burgess: Oh, I think these were regular librarians. These were people behind-there was this window and you gave it to them, right? And they had to Xerox it. And then you would come back the next day and pick it up. And I think they re-shelved the book. So that was the process to get your article. You needed to get it copied. So I did that. Now, Dr. Maine, he didn't care anything about doing computer searches. He didn't think you were going to find everything that way. His way was to go and you get one article and you see the references there, and then you go look up those articles and stuff, or whatever.
Riggins: Which is still how a lot of scientists work.
Burgess: Yeah. You see what they reference, and then you go look up theirs, which of course is a way of doing it, too. But he didn't like this thing of, you know. So I would do this and I would make two copies, it's what she told me to do, the lady from Meredith told me to do, and I can say this, I guess, because Dr. Maine has passed away, so whatever, it doesn't matter anyway now. But I would always bring him a copy back. And I'd always make sure I'd read the paper and I could bring the copy to him and say, "Look what I found in the library." Okay? And this is so and so and I'd discuss it with him. See? But I never let him know that I did the computer search. See, that had to be a big secret. See? It had to be the thing-he had to think that I had gone and dug it out myself. Somehow found it, right. See how you librarians have helped me?
Riggins: That's wonderful.
Burgess: And a related thing here, when I first came here and I was looking for some research to do here at UNCW, and I was trying to pull something from my PhD research so I could do here, so I came over to this library, and the door was on the other side, and Sue Cody, who is my best friend, who still works here, was a librarian here, and she had a little desk out in the front there, and I'm pointing like you can see out in the front there. And, anyway, I asked her to do a search for me and she did the search, and I think it was the effect of heat and acid on horse serum buterol cholinesterase, or something. I forget exactly what it was now. Anyway, she did the search and she came up with no hits, zero hits. She'll tell you this story. And she was just so upset. I didn't know her very well then, but she was very upset because she's a very meticulous person and she was afraid she'd done something wrong, and I think she probably did it two or three times, and again, back then, we would give our words to the librarians and they would do the search.
Riggins: Or dialogue or abstracts or something.
Burgess: I don't know how they did it. They did some kind of magic and we got the things back. What we had to concentrate on was the right words and the "ands" and the "ors" and stuff. She got no hits. So she's giving this to me and she says, "I am very sorry. I had nothing on this." And I'm thrilled because I was giving her a search for something I wanted to do here, you know, and I was trying to make it specific enough to see if anyone else had done it.
Riggins: Oh, so you were like, "Oh, good, no one has done it!"
Burgess: Yeah. Exactly.
Riggins: Did you tell her that?
Burgess: Yes, yes, and actually she and I have laughed about that since, that she was all worried, and it was exactly what I wanted, and it was a pretty narrow kind of thing where this hadn't been done on that particular enzyme, is what it was, together. And so I did that, did it here, and I got a paper out on it.
Burgess: So now it would be, if you do that now, now you would see that it's actually having a hit or something, those two things together.
Riggins: So you did continue with that?
Burgess: I did because, what you do is, I continued with that sum because you have to have some ideas as you carry on through. When I came here, we were over in DeLoach and we didn't have a lot of equipment at all. We didn't have a lot of scientific equipment, didn't have any biochemical equipment. But I wanted to do some biochemical research, and so kind of came here; I was sort of one of the ones that was here when we were sort of overlapping from being a small college that was called a "University" to being what University of North Carolina Wilmington is now. So we didn't have a lot of outside funds or anything like that, so I was looking for something I could do with the resources that we had. And, see, I did.
Riggins: Well, when you came, were you told, you know, "We'll support your research however we can. We may not have a lot of funds but we want you to do research." Was research kind of an emphasis?
Burgess: Because I came the way I did, it was. It was and it wasn't. My husband had moved down to this area and I was-my stories never can be short stories-he moved to this area and I was finishing my PhD when he moved to this area, and I was also teaching part-time at Meredith. I had gone back to my Alma Mater and landed in heaven because all Meredith girls want to teach at Meredith, you know. Anyway, his job moved him down here, and I was going back and forth, and then we decided -- we'd been married six years and we decided, "Well, why don't we have a baby?" So we did. And being young people that we just thought we could do anything, you know, and have unlimited amount of energy, I didn't see-I had it all worked out, how he was going to take care of the baby part of the time, and I was going to go back and forth two days a week, and we had the schedules worked out at Meredith, and the whole thing, and it just fell apart after that baby was born. And so I had to reluctantly ask him to release me from my contract at Meredith, and they did, they were very kind about it. But anyway, I was talking to Jack Levy and Jim Merritt here all that time about possibly a job here. Jack Levy was the Chairman of the Chemistry Department and Jim Merritt was the Chairman of the Biology Department back then. And since I had the degree in Biochemistry, I was kind of looking in both places, and at Meredith I had taught Biology and Chemistry, so I was again sort of looking in both places. And they didn't have anything come up, so-I'm getting to the answer to your question-so I went about six months unemployed, wondering what I was going to do, if I messed this career track thing up, or whatever, and then Cape Fear Community College called me because I'd looked at them, too.
Riggins: They were probably Cape Fear Tech then.
Burgess: Cape Fear Tech, that's exactly right, and what I'm teaching now-Brunswick Community College wasn't even in existence. I think they were, just frankly, I think they were just starting with just a few technical things back then because I think we go back like 25 years, so you're talking about 25 years ago. And I went to Southeastern and talked to them. Anyway, Cape Fear came up with--they needed someone to teach Physics to occupational technology students. Well, I was hungry for getting back into teaching, doing something, and so I said, "Sure, I can do that." And so I came out at night and left my baby, who is now 26-years-old, I left my baby with a babysitter in the community, and I came out at night and taught Physics at Cape Fear, two nights a week, and to a bunch of men that knew more about mechanical physics than I did, and climbed planes and pulleys, and stuff like that. And these were like postal workers and guys on G.I. bills who--but there I was in there, this little young 27-year-old woman there. So anyway, I did that and that kind of got me back into it. I would just read a chapter ahead with them and stuff. And I kept talking to Jack Levy and Jim Merritt, maybe three or four months or something, not so much to be aggravating, but just to remind them I'm in the area, and again, we're small back then, we're still a small place. Biology is over in Friday-I'm not even sure it was named "Friday" back then, but they were just in Friday, and we were in DeLoach. This library was half the size. And you had the buildings in the courtyard, and we didn't have anything back in the social behavioral sciences building. We used to call that, you know, like going to Wrightsville Beach, you know, because that was the building that was way far off campus, was Social and Behavioral Sciences. So it was a small campus. But anyway, the story is, and I've had documentation about this just recently, that Jack Levy was playing golf with Bob Kennedy, and Bob Kennedy was my boss at Cape Fear, and Jack says, "Oh, I've got to have somebody to teach labs this next semester," because this professor, and I've forgotten his name now, I'd recall it if I thought about it, but one of the Chemistry professors had up and left after the fall semester, and had taken a job in Texas for a oil company or something. So the department was having to restructure and quickly get people to cover his classes, and then restructured and whatever.
So Bob Kennedy playing golf with Jack says, "Oh, I've got a PhD teaching Physics." Because he was kind of bragging because he had a PhD because you didn't have to have a PhD to do it, I guess. And so that reminded Jack about me, so Jack calls me and asks me if I wanted to do this, and I was just more than thrilled to do this, made arrangements for the baby, and came out and taught labs, and that's when he said Becky Jones would be someone for you to talk to. She was the one that made sure that I checked my mail every day, and that I did what I was supposed to. And I had like a little desk in her office. And she was like that with everybody. She prepped the labs, and prepped the General Chemistry labs, and then she taught some of the General Chemistry labs. But she kind of kept everybody kind of together and organized and stuff. I remember going there one day and I said something--I hadn't done something, and she said, "Well, have you checked your mailbox?" You know? And I said, "Well, no." She goes, "You must check your mailbox every day." I said okay. Now, back then, we didn't have voice mail. We did not have voice mail! Can you imagine not having voice mail? You know, that's like 100 years old, but we did not have voice mail. The secretary took the messages and put the messages in your box. Right? Certainly, we didn't have e-mail. We didn't have computers. We didn't have computers on the secretary's desk, she typed everything. You gave her a handwritten test and she typed it. And that's just been 25 years ago! Amazing, isn't it?
Riggins: I know. And it's amazing to think that we functioned back then, just fine. You know, because I went through college with no e-mail. How did the University run?!
Burgess: Exactly, exactly.
Riggins: But it ran. Business got done the way it had.
Burgess: Exactly. Well, anyway, back to-
Riggins: It's hard to remember the details of how things were. I wish I could remember more.
Burgess: Well, I know Ms. Malleck was their secretary, and she walked around that building, the building of theirs in the square, and she'd walk around that building a whole lot just to, you know, "You had a call," and just to leave the little message, put a message on your desk, you know? We did have a phone, but we didn't have voice mail. So it was that semester, doing the labs. And then the next year, Jack Levy was thinking about me for a tenure track position because this was when the Nursing Department here-the school here-was going from a two-year program to a four-year program. See, as you know, University of North Carolina Wilmingtonwas initially a community college, or technical school, but a community college. So when I came here, it only had a two-year nursing program, so they were going to a four-year program. Now, of course, they have the masters and all this stuff now. And so, in going to the four-year program, they needed to teach Chemistry to the nursing students, or the pre-nursing students, and that was going to be a different kind of Chemistry, and that was going to be a Chemistry that involved a lot of Biochemistry. And Jack Levy, the brilliant person that he is at managing things, and he knows I feel this way about him, he had in his head, "Well, here's someone that's got this background. She's local, you know, she'd fit in to doing this." But the nursing program hadn't gotten here yet. So he hired me for the next year, and they still had the need because the professor wasn't there. So they hired me the next year to teach full time. And I taught the Chemistry that the pre-nursing students took at that time for the two-no, they weren't pre-nursing students-for the nursing students that the two-year nurses took. So I taught that course. That was the course that Dr. Hornack had taught in the past, and so they gave that to me and he took over some of the courses that this person that had left had been teaching. I was full-time, but I wasn't tenure track; I was a full-time instructor for that year.
So to get back to the research thing, there was no research required, expectations at all then. But I wanted to be doing some research, and I wanted to be tenured, and I wanted to be tenure track and be tenure and stuff, and so I started doing a few things anyway, and Jack Levy encouraged me to do that. And that's where the library search I talked to you about with Sue and stuff, and just trying to find something I could do. One of the Chemistry students, Anita Listor, I would love to see her now, I just wonder where she's at now, but find her for me! Anita Listor-and these days, it shouldn't be hard to do. I should be able to do that myself. But she was, I guess you would say my first research student because she worked with me on my little research projects, and she was also a lab assistant for me because, well, because we needed some lab assistance. But one of the things Dr. Yousry Sayed had said to me-and you must get him in for an interview if you-you must.
Riggins: I haven't yet, but, yeah.
Burgess: Oh, you must. He's such a dynamic person. But I remember going to his office the first day there, and he says, he's an Organic Chemist, and he says, "Okay, so you're going to teach Organic Labs, huh?" Of course, Dr. Levy had said to me, Jack Levy had said to me, "Well, you have a PhD in Biochemistry, so you can teach Organic Chemistry labs, can't you?" And I know that may not mean a lot to you, but that's really not the same thing as a PhD in Biochemistry. I hadn't even done any Organic labs since I had been at Meredith. But I said yes, of course I could. And so I was scared to death because I had never done these things. So I would go to Anita, who was a student, she was my student assistant, but she had done the labs last year, and, of course, I'd read before, then I would go to her and ask her details about what do we do about this and that. So she really helped me with those things.
Riggins: Yeah, in recent memory.
Burgess: Yes, her recent memory and stuff. She went on and got her PhD from Purdue, so she did quite well. And Yousry was like that. He would help me a lot. They were all very helpful, but he would help me a lot. Buy Yousry kind of-you couldn't pass anything by Dr. Sayed, Yousry Sayed. He would look at me like, "Yeah, yeah," like, "Does she really know how to do this?" But he would always pop in there to make sure everything was running smoothly, to help me and all. So that was that year, so I didn't have to do research, but I started some. And then the next year, they converted the position to a tenure track position, and then I was an applicant for that position and got that position. And I insisted on-of course, I was going to do research then, and I remember walking down the hallway with Dr. Levy, Jack Levy, and, oh, I kept calling him Dr. Levy back then, because I was a kid. I was still a kid. To me, I was still a kid. Now all of a sudden, I'm a Professor at a University, you know! And I remember thanking him so much, just thanking him so much for giving me this opportunity and stuff, and he stopped in the hall -- I can remember even where we were in the hall, and he probably doesn't remember this himself, and he looked at me, and he said, "I didn't do this for you. I didn't do this for you." He said, "You're the one that we wanted." He said, "You're one of us." You know? So he was really, I mean, when he said that, I thought, "Yeah, yeah, I am."
Riggins: I'm a colleague now.
Burgess: Yeah, yeah. It wasn't like this is a favor he's done for me, you know, this was something he saw and saw that it fit.
Riggins: Right, and it's a professional position.
Burgess: Yeah. And so it was like, "Oh, okay." So basically he was saying, "Quit thanking me for this." You know? So he had that kind of idea. So I taught the pre-nursing students; that was my special group. And that group of students just goes in with the regular Chemistry, but back then we had a Chemistry just for them, for the first semester. And the second semester was Organic and Biological, just for them. But now that course has been dissolved and those students just go into the regular Chemistry.
Riggins: So they take Chemistry with pre-med and everything?
Burgess: Yeah, in part because of a study that I did with them one year, comparing their performance to the performance of the General Chemistry students on identical test questions. And we looked at that, and there was no difference. I think at the beginning, we sort of thought that they weren't going to be able to compete with the other students and then we saw what we were getting, where students that were very smart and there was no need to keep them in a different Chemistry and, of course, the nursing school was the one that decided. But we concurred with it that, yes, they would be able to compete just fine.
Riggins: Like they weren't even accepted to the nursing school yet.
Burgess: That's right. If they wanted to go into nursing, they had to take my chemistry and, at the time, I was the only one teaching it. And then they had to take Tim Ballard's anatomy and physiology, and other things, too. But they had to get certain grades, you know, in those courses. And I can remember vividly in the spring, the day the decisions were made about nursing acceptances, and you would just have a horrible, horrible class, because you'd have some people that had gotten in and some that didn't, because I'd have 50 kids in my class and maybe they were accepting 20. And so that was when I would give them my music major story. I would just stop class, I'd say, okay, I want to tell you about me being a music major at Meredith college. And that is basically the way I said it to you, but I'd stretch it out a little bit to them, and it doesn't mean-you know, just give them a little pep talk. "If you want to be a nurse, you will be a nurse if you have the ability to. You may not have the ability to. You may need to do something different that these people that are going into nursing won't do. But if you really have the ability and you want to, you apply next year." But I gave them a little thing every year. But when they would come in, and I got so I'd ask what the date was, you know, had they made the decisions yet because I'd sort of be prepared for this class. Even the ones that got in would be sort of feeling bad because their friends that didn't get in, it's a very, very competitive kind of thing. So that was my group. And then I taught Biochemistry, since I did have a PhD in Biochemistry. Dr. Levy was wanting to teach Biochemistry in the Chemistry Department; at that time, it was only taught in the Biology Department. And they wanted to pull it into the Chemistry Department and have it more chemically oriented, and so I taught that. And then I did research on-I expanded my research into the marine area and did some collaborations with Bob Roer and Dick Dillaman and worked on the same things that they're working on now, on mechanisms of hardening of crab shells, calcification of crab shells, and did some other collaborations with some other people in the department on some Estuary things, was the graduate coordinator for three years. Joan Willey was our first graduate coordinator and I was the second one. And then Pam Seaton came after me. And I think Bob Kieber is doing it now. And we were over in DeLoach. I got a grant to start a Biochemistry lab course because we didn't have a lab course, Biochemistry lab, at the time. So I got a grant from the National Science Foundation to equip a Biochemistry lab. And so we needed space to put that equipment. So it would be fun to have Dr. Aycock telling his side of the story. So there was a lab up in the corner over there in DeLoach, and it was a teaching lab, and it had three bays in it, or three benches. And so I came in and I took the back bench in the back wall, and kind of around with this equipment for the Biochemistry lab, but that whole room had been used for Analytical Chemistry, which was Dr. Aycock's area. So I came in, and then we hired Pam Seaton that next year, maybe two years after I came, and then she came in that lab and took one of the benches, so Dr. Aycock said it was like letting the camel stick his head in the tent. Once the camel got his head in the tent, the whole room was just gone. So his Analytical-it was all his teaching Analytical lab. I think we left him one little bench, so he'd come in there and pretend like he was mad, "Hah," let the camel's head in and it takes over the whole tent. But that's where we were up there in that corner.
Riggins: How did you decide he was okay with it?
Burgess: I don't know if he was okay or not with it.
Riggins: It came from the Chair, and what can you do?
Burgess: Yeah. Yeah.
Riggins: But he didn't take it out on you guys?
Burgess: No. No, he's just not that kind of person, is he? No. He's just such, Dr. Aycock is such a wonderful person. Yeah, he's not vindictive at all. If things did not go his way, now, he would grumble about it, you know. And he might grumble as he walks down the hall. He might grumble like, you know, come out the side of his mouth thing. But, no, he was never-I don't think is never with anybody, you know, vindictive. Just like that make a joke about-"Let the camel's head come in, and take over the whole lab." That's what we kept hearing. And with him, since he was my colleague, I would call him Louis, but most of the time I would call him Dr. Aycock-even to his face, because I know I'm supposed to call him Louis, but it would just come out "Dr. Aycock" because there's just something about-maybe it's the age or something, I don't know.
Riggins: The age and he's still always wears a tie, a suit.
Burgess: Do you notice his tie pin?
Burgess: Ask him about his tie pin sometime. I won't say it on the thing, but ask him. He wears the same tie pin. His wife gave it to him-I'll tell you after we get off camera, I guess. But his wife gave it to him when he got his PhD.
Burgess: And it's a shovel. So you can go from there.
Burgess: But he wears it all the time. His wife passed away probably 15 years ago now. But he wears it all the time. Very special person, yeah. So that's where we did the research there. And then, of course, we moved over to Dobo and we all had our own research labs and offices outside that and I had graduate students-I think I've had about four or five graduate students. The last one was a Chinese graduate student, Yen Xu. I never could say her last name correct. I say it "Zoo," and it's really more-it's X-u. I never could say it right, but she would just laugh at me. She'd smile. She was a very dedicated young woman. And so we had a really nice set-up over there. In a way-
Riggins: Over there? Yeah, that must have been exciting, moving to the Science building.
Burgess: It was exciting. It was exciting and, I don't want to say this in any negative way, but it changed the nature of the department. Okay? It changed it from, well, it's a part of this evolution and this growing, okay? It changed us because we had more space. And we had more equipment. People started getting more grants. Some of our new hires say-I came in the same year that Jimmy Reeves did. You got my little part time instructor year, but then the tenure track year was together with us. So I was actually there before, but I wasn't there as a tenure track person-even though backing up to those days-even though Jack Levy lived in a way that I was included in on all those decisions, even though I was an instructor when Jimmy came in to the interview, I was included in on the interview process, and I would vote and whatever, but that's just the way he did things. He included all of us in on those things.
Burgess: Yeah. But Jimmy and I basically came in together, tenure track. And then it would be Bart Jones, and then Pam Seaton, and then Bob Kieber. And Cecilia wasn't hired immediately because she actually took Becky Jones' position when Becky retired. So Bob Kieber, and then I guess, of the ones that are still there, Steve Skrabel and Chris Halkides, I guess, is next. And then I don't know. Then the ones after that, you know, are the ones that are after I had left. But the people that came in, sort of going from Pam up, including me, were more research oriented. Every time we hired somebody, okay, they were expected to do more research, you know, as the years went on. With me, it really wasn't when I was hired, but I wanted to. With Jimmy, probably the same way. With Bart, probably the same way. With Bob Kieber, expected him to do more research, and then with Pam, again, they were kind of there together. We were hiring someone about every year there for a while.
Riggins: It sounds like it.
Burgess: We were. We were just really growing. And so, with the new people that are over there, too, of course they expected to do more, and they have the Endow Professorships with-anyway, the man that teaches Inorganic. Anyway, so they have some Endowed Professorships, too. I'll recall it the minute the camera is not running.
Riggins: It's still running. We have a couple minutes, but we will actually take a little break, if you don't mind.
Burgess: Okay, that's good.
Riggins: Thank you. (Tape Change)
Burgess: Where were we?
Riggins: This is tape two. January 6, 2007, Adina Riggins here, interviewing Dr. Burgess. I want to ask you about how you knew that teaching was for you. When you finished your PhD in chemistry there was always like various things you could do with it. Did you know right away that you wanted to teach? How did your teaching interests evolve?
Burgess: No, I didn't know that right away I wanted to teach, in part because you always blame somebody else, I guess. But in part because my research advisor was so focused on research, and he had a philosophy that if you could do, you did, and if you couldn't do, you taught. You may have heard that unfortunate philosophy before.
Riggins: I did, but I haven't heard that with regard to research. That's interesting. Yeah.
Burgess: And he always looked down on the teaching, and I sort of absorbed a little bit of that and wanted to make sure. It was in the years of the women's movement, and I wanted to make sure that I was as good as the man, and all that kind of stuff. And so I wanted to make sure that I definitely did the research, and I enjoyed research when I did it. But it seems that my life has always been pulled towards the teaching, and my first job was at Meredith College, and that was my alma mater. But now I intended to teach and do research there, too. I was going to do research with students. I started a little project before I moved down here. And then when I came here, it was always wanting to do the research and teach, too. And University of North Carolina Wilmingtonwas a perfect place to do that, to combine both, particularly that when I first started here, we were small enough. You had a lot of contact with students, but yet we were big enough you could have enough money for equipment and that sort of thing. And I always included students in on my research and all. But now the mature woman that I am, if we could have the maturity of in our forties and fifties, and the energy we have when we're eighteen, we would just be something else, wouldn't we? Yeah.
Riggins: Let's talk to that.
Burgess: But when I look back on it, I realize I've been a teacher all my life. And it's in part, well, I guess it's completely this, because of what teachers have meant to me. And coming from a farm background, with my parents being my very first teachers, but my high school chemistry teacher I'm still very close to, and my music teacher back then that got me started in music. These teachers have done things for me that changed my life, little things, but that organized myself in a certain way. I would have never thought about doing anything in science if it hadn't been for this one science teacher. I would have never even listened to classical music if it hadn't been for that music teacher, you know. And, well, this is from the heart. It might sound like it's not, but it is, but I just want to give back. I really do want to give back. And I've been very blessed. We never know in this life when we're going to be able to step into the other life. Okay. And I want to, when I make that step, have left a good footprint. Okay? Alright. And so for me that's teaching. Now, I always did research here at UNCW, and I'm proud of the research I did. But when I look back on my accomplishments here, at UNCW, it's the students that are my accomplishments. Now, the other people, it may be the other way. Other people it may be more equal. But for me, it's the things, the students that have said, "I had you." And I run into it now, and it's just, you know, it's wonderful when you run into it. And they say, "Oh, I had her and she was." I'm not supposed to brag. But, you know, said, "She was great", or "I really liked her. She helped me do this or that." And I guess, you know, that's really kind of how I knew. I retired early from UNCW. I am only 54. Okay?
Riggins: Yes. So you must have retired like in, gosh.
Burgess: I was 50. I was 50 when I retired.
Riggins: So about four years ago.
Burgess: Yeah, yeah. I took early retirement in part. I had been single. I was married and then divorced. Divorced back in '86. Okay. So I was married when I first got my job here, and then my husband and I got divorced. And I was single the rest of the time. And then I met my present husband, who passed away in September a year ago. But I met him, and he was a horseman, and I just got to thinking that maybe I was going to just retire from this teaching thing, and I he and I could do our horse business together. He was a farrier, trimmed horse's feet. And it was kind of a going back home in terms of my personal life, and going back to the farm basically. We bought a place out in Brunswick County, and so that's what I did, you know. So I took early retirement, and did the phased retirement where I came out and did a few classes, you know, part time for three years. And then one of my former students here at UNCW, Kim Jones, she got a master's degree in our chemistry department, is teaching at Brunswick Community College. She got promoted. She was teaching all the chemistry there. And she got promoted to basically a dean position. Well, they call it director of college transfer, but it's like our dean of arts and sciences, I guess, here at UNCW. And she needed someone to teach some chemistry classes, and so she asked me to come do it, and I was hesitant. And she said, "Oh, come on. It's just freshman chemistry. You've taught freshman chemistry for 25 years. It's the same book that you use at UNCW." And so I did it. And so now, my former student is my boss.
Riggins: Isn't that amazing.
Burgess: So I think the moral of that story is be nice to your students, because they might end up being your boss. My husband was always very supportive, and he always bragged about me. He was not college educated. He was very proud of his high school education, and a very intelligent man with the work that he did. But he always threw arm around me, and he would say. His name was Billy Murray, so my married name is Sybil Burgess Murray, but academically I go by Burgess. But he would put his arm around me and he would say, "Let me introduce you." This would be out doing horses feet and stuff with a bunch of horse people. "Let me introduce you to Dr. Sybil Burgess." And they would say, "Yeah, right", you know. And he would tell people, "My wife's a doctor." And they would say, "Yeah, right, Willie", you know. "Yeah." And then they would see I was for real, you know, would always be a cute little joke and stuff. So he was always very supportive of that, and very supportive of education. As a matter of fact, since his passing, the Southeast District 4-H Horse Organization has a five hundred dollar scholarship in his memory. And I think it's pretty cool that he has an academic scholarship named for him.
Riggins: Oh, yeah.
Burgess: Isn't that neat? Isn't that neat?
Riggins: Oh, yeah.
Burgess: So it's the Billy S. Murray Scholarship, and it's five hundred dollars to any kid that's been involved in 4-H horse activities in the Southeast Region for them to go to a four-year school or a community college. And we're hoping to build it up so we can give more than five hundred, but they established that themselves without my input. They established it, and I'm helping them with it, but it was their idea. So he was always very supportive of education, and always wished that he had more, and was proud of me for mine. But after he and I got married, and I did the phased retirement, I was teaching a little bit kind of in between. I was teaching a little bit at Brunswick Community College. I started working with 4-H, and he and I did a 4-H Club that I still have going. And I will do horse camps in the summer with little kids. They come to the house. They ride our horses, and then I will talk to them about horse anatomy and horse feet, and feeding and how much it costs to keep a horse, and just general things like that. I remember one day we were sitting there in that little house, and I had this little board up, this little dry erase board. I was putting things on the board, and the kids were listening, you know, and our little class activities. We went out to run. And I said, "Well, you know, Miss Sybil." I'm Miss Sybil to these kids. I said, "You know, Miss Sybil was a teacher." And one of them said, "Oh, really, like we can't tell." You know. And that's one of the things, when he said that, it was so cute that it was like it was just still there, even though that was before the Brunswick Community College came in, and it was just still there, that teacher thing was still there. And I've had people say to me out in the mall or grocery store, something, if I'm talking to a kid say, "Oh, you must be a teacher", you know. And it's just been sort of a combination of all those things that's made me realize that that's really what I am, you know, and that it's not like my PhD advisor said. It's a noble thing to be, you know. It's a noble and it's a good thing to be. So now I'm head over heels at Brunswick Community College. I'm full time there.
Riggins: Oh, my goodness.
Riggins: Full time faculty?
Burgess: Full time faculty, teach biology. It's sort of full circle. I teach biology and chemistry, freshmen level, of course, because that's all we have, freshmen and sophomores. And I love it. I have to watch because I do the same thing I did here. I used to, when I was here at UNCW, I would stay late and work extra hours. I'm doing the same thing over there. The only difference is at University of North Carolina WilmingtonI had a key to the building. They won't give me a key to the building at Brunswick, so I do have to go home, you know. That's probably good.
Riggins: Because you might get locked in?
Burgess: Well, they just don't. Here, you know, the faculty just had access to the building at any time, you know. And they just don't do it over there. They close up at ten o'clock. Everybody's supposed to go home. Come back tomorrow morning like realistic people. Building's closed. Everybody's gone. So they just. There are a few people that have access, but it's not like it is over here where everyone has access. And my students over there are a mix. I've got women that are going back to school that have families. I have young women that are having. I had a student this semester like a week ago, two weeks ago, comes into class about ready to have a baby. She says.
Riggins: She just started this semester?
Burgess: Started this semester. I said, "Honey, when you having that baby?" And she says, "Well, I think probably in a couple of weeks." I said, "Well, we'll work out something. You sure you want to be here?" "Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah." Calls me and says, leaves me a message, and says, "They're going to induce me on this and such Wednesday. I'll be back in class on Monday." And she was. She's got-her mother's home taking care of the baby. But you've got that kind of student that because of the community college, you've got students that either cannot afford to go to a four-year school, or they don't have the grades yet to go to a four-year school, or they just don't, you know. They want to save that money. So you've got a different kind of student. Then we have the students that don't have the grades to go to a four-year school, because at a community college you have an open door policy. If they have a high school degree, they're accepted. So then you have to get them sometimes through what we call developmental work, which basically is high school again, you know. I don't teach any of the developmental courses, but I advise students, and I run into that sort of thing. So, yeah, that's. I've sort of been a teacher all along, and sort of been teaching, and at times in my early life kind of almost denying it, because I'm not supposed to be a teacher. I'm supposed to be a scientist. And I was a scientist, too, but now I would say when I was here I would say I was a biochemist. Okay. I'm a biochemist. If you asked me what my profession, I'm a biochemist. Now I will say I'm an instructor that teaches biology. So it's just kind of a difference in the emphasis. I see how sometimes one thing that you do for a student can just push them along the right way. And maybe you can't, you know. You can't save them all.
Riggins: Not everybody. You can't.
Burgess: Yeah. And that's the part that you have to, that a person like me has to give up and has to not worry about so much, you know. If you see one going the wrong way, and you keep trying and trying, and they won't go the right way, you have to be able just to let it go. But you have that opportunity, so that's kind of how that comes in. The material I'm teaching now is material I've taught a lot, so it's. I like to read about it, and learn new things, but it's not as challenging as far as mastering the material as it was when I was here teaching graduate level courses, whereas part of the challenge was mastering the material and communicating complicated material. Now the challenge is more to be able to take this material and get it across to that student. So it's a lot more focused on the student.
Riggins: Alright. How is it working with them? They're a real mix. Would you say that they are hard-working?
Burgess: Some are. Some are not. Some are. You have the older ones, like I was saying. And then you have the kids. They're still high school kids, really. They're not high school kids, because they're 18, and they can't keep going to high school, but they're still high school kids. They're still living at home. They're kids. They're just kids. And so I have things like pop quizzes that I give in class that I can give at any time, you know. It's attendance things. We have three classes that are in three-hour blocks. Instead of the way we do it here, we'll have four, five classes are taught like Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday. And that's why Friday is a freer day for me. Alright. And they're in three-hour blocks. Okay. So it's not like a Monday, Wednesday, Friday class and a separate lab. So you have them for that whole time, lecture and lab. So you're supposed to do a fifty hour class period and a ten minute break, fifty hour class period, ten minute break, fifty hour class period, two ten minute breaks. Well, you know, they like these breaks. Right. So their little things is, you know, they'll go for break and then they go down and something to eat, shoot some pool, and like you can't find them anymore. Right, right. And so you just, see, you just have to remember they're kids.
Riggins: You have to come up with some way to bring them back in.
Burgess: Yeah. Like a pop quiz. We're going to have a pop quiz at ten fifteen. And it'll be due at ten twenty. It'll be something like what's the name of your textbook or something. I mean, sometimes a pop quizzes are really on things that are really hard, but I use them, too, for attendance. You miss it, you just miss it, you know. And so they learn they have to get back in. And I have been known to go down and chase them. You see me. I'm just one of those. The other teachers don't. Down there, they're shooting. I go down there. "Okay, folks. Hey, you know, come on." "Okay, we're coming, Dr. Burgess", you know. And then I'm like ushering them back up there. So I play with them. I know they're, you know, play with them, too.
Riggins: Go play them in.
Burgess: Try to get them, because what we try to do at a community college is get them from the high school to the level where they can come here, and they can be independent, and there's not going to be anybody chasing them down, where they're going to have to have their study skills, and they're going to have to be mature. And so I find that rewarding to hopefully see them get there.
Riggins: You've been there long enough that you've probably seen some students coming on to.
Burgess: I have. I saw one of my students last night at the ballgame that was one of the ball players that was in my biology class. And then I actually yesterday the basketball coach was talking to one of my former students on the phone, and he gave me the phone. We was in the cafeteria together, and I talked to him. And we see a lot of them come back, because they, the others, because they live in the area, and they want to come to UNCW, and they come back. And so that's-and a lot of them don't, because that's the way it is in teaching. They don't come back. They don't. You want them to, but they don't. And that's.
Riggins: But you can imagine what they're doing.
Burgess: Yeah. And that's why graduations in the spring are always kind of bittersweet for me, because you'll say, "Come back and see me now." And you know they're not going to, because they're going to think about you, but they're going on with their life. Just like this student I told you, Anita Luster. I was thinking, oh, I got a whole bunch of students like that that I need to catch up with them. I don't think about it until sort of going back through that history, wondering what they're doing now, you know. And they're doing the same thing. And it's like a mother hen, or a mother bird or something, you kick in the mouth, and you don't want them to come back and just really stay, because they've got to go on with their life. But there's a feeling that you've put something out there hopefully, you know, that's been a good thing. And you've taught them some chemistry, not just encouraged them along the way, but you've actually, you know, the idea is that you taught them something, and that when they go into the next course, they're going to be able to apply that. I mean, that's what the big deal is.
Riggins: I have a question. When you started here, were the students kind of similar to the way you describe the students at BCC now, a mix of non-traditional and traditional, some with really poor study skills that needed to be helped. I imagine now it's a different story. They're more sophisticated and everything. But when you started, what were the students like?
Burgess: I think so. I think so, but we had more just traditionally age students. We didn't have that many, now, except in the nursing program, older students, because I taught the nursing, pre-nursing, but I also taught just general chemistry. And in the general chemistry class, you'd have a lot of the kids just right straight out of high school. You didn't have too many older ones. But in the nursing population, you would have the ones that were the mothers that were going back, and that sort of thing, women. You'd have women there. You wouldn't have many men in the nursing. And because I was teaching chemistry, I didn't get some of the kids, types of kids I get now at BCC. I'll say that, because I also teach biology at BCC, and the biology I teach at Brunswick Community College, BCC, is the biology that the associate in art students take, so it's like.
Riggins: Non-science major?
Burgess: It's the non-science major's biology, the equivalent to that here, and so.
Riggins: Yeah. You wouldn't have taught that. No.
Burgess: Yeah. And so I teach that over there, and that's where I get some diversity in that class, because they're non-science majors, not planning on being science majors. So I'd say yes, and not quite as much as I'm getting there, but certainly the classes were smaller. A big class for us when I first started here back in what, what did I say, '82, what I said. Yeah.
Riggins: Was that the first time?
Burgess: Right. A big class would be 30 students, 30, 40 students. A huge class would be 60. Huge class was 60. We didn't even have a room that would hold more than 60.
Riggins: Yeah, probably.
Burgess: We didn't. Yeah. And we didn't want to. We didn't want to. We didn't want to have classes that big. Well, you know, those days are over. But when we were first designing Dobo, the first designs, the Chemistry and Physics Department got together and we adamantly said no, no classrooms bigger than, we debated on that, the size. And then we were overruled on that because you needed the bigger lecture halls for more students, and economic reasons, and that sort of thing. But, yeah, the classes were a lot smaller.
Riggins: Did Physics move over there, too?
Burgess: Physics did not. Physics was going to, but then they reorganized and biology went over there with us instead of Physics. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So there is some similarity, and probably you still had those students coming to University of North Carolina Wilmington that I'm getting in the non-science biology class, but I just wasn't interacting with them. Because if a student is taking chemistry that weeds out a lot of immaturity and, you know, there are other classes you can take besides chemistry, you know, right, so that kind of-even at Brunswick Community College it weeds out a lot of those kids. If they take chemistry, chemistry's considered one of the, you know, one of the harder, tougher courses to take. Yeah, right.
Riggins: Than biology.
Burgess: Right, right. Well, than the biology that I teach. Now, we have another biology that is for the science students, and that would be the same caliber of students I get in the chemistry. But as far as their science level, the ones I get in the non-science biology is kind of everywhere, which it makes it kind of fun for me, because it's a challenge to get them interested in it and doing some things with it, you know. That's different.
Riggins: Yeah. Is that a challenge for you to work with students who are non-science at all?
Burgess: Yes, yes, yes, yes.
Riggins: What sort of adjustments have you had to make?
Burgess: Constant challenge. I feel like Phil Donohue. I walk around in the classrooms. People don't know who Phil Donohue is, right? You didn't? Yeah. Phil Donohue was the first one that walked around, right? Yeah, yeah. I hardly ever just stay behind the desk. I walk around. I stand there and talk and I'll stand there at them, you know.
Riggins: To make sure that something's getting in there?
Burgess: Yes. Or just, if they're talking, I'll just go over and just stand there, you know. Or I'll say, I'll tell them, "Come on, now, hush now. Be quiet now." You know. We're not going to be too long with this. We'll take a break. There has to be, seems like the way I teach, with that class, there's more kind of, okay, let's stay together here. And they'll do it, but you have to sort of interact with them a little bit more. We also have high school students in our classes, dual enrolled students. And that sometimes is a challenge, too, because some of those kids are immature, and some of those kids are very mature. It just kind of depends, you know. I've got one in my class now that has some maturity issues, and I have to just act like a mother to him, say "No, you can't do that now." "Why?" "Because I said so." I literally have to say "because I said so." And he'll say, "Okay", because he's got the intellectual ability to do the course, but he's very immature like that.
Riggins: He sees that. Yeah.
Burgess: Yeah, yeah. And I can do that. I mean, it's something I can do. Some of the other teachers don't want to do it, which is nice because they give it to me. I like to do it. And I've fallen into, because I've stepped into working with our basketball players, and I just love them to death, and they're a challenge in a good way. And I've learned about the rules, about basketball, but I don't know all the rules. But these kids that come to Brunswick Community College to play basketball.
Riggins: We don't have a basketball team at Cape Fear, I don't think.
Burgess: Yeah they do.
Riggins: Oh, they do now.
Burgess: Because we beat them.
Riggins: Oh, okay. You would know. Alright.
Burgess: Yeah, we beat them. Yes, we did.
Riggins: I guess I'm thinking of Woods.
Burgess: Maybe not. Some of the places don't. But we don't offer any athletic scholarships at Brunswick Community College, so there's no money for them to come.
Burgess: I don't know if that's our policy, whatever, but anyway, we do not. Okay. But the kids that come, we have a excellent recruiter there called Walter Shawl, who is our basketball coach. And he recruits these kids from all over, so we have these kids from southeastern North Carolina, northeastern South Carolina, coming to Brunswick Community College to play ball. These guys were all top ball players in their high school. Right. So they're ball players, right? And they're cool, you know. They're ball players, right? Well, for some reason they didn't go to a four-year school. Right? They either weren't good enough to play at a four-year school, and they wanted to play ball, which is probably it, or their grades were not good enough to get in. So he recruits them, but we don't offer them any money. Okay. And in order for them to play at a four-year school, they have to graduate with a degree from the two-year school. They can't just go two years and not get a degree. We have a policy at Brunswick Community College that if you get a D in a class, it doesn't count towards graduation if it's college transfer because that way if you got the D, even though you passed the class, it's not going to transfer. So we don't let it count towards the degree. So these guys come in at sort of a disadvantage.
Riggins: How long do they get to complete their degree?
Burgess: Two years.
Riggins: Just two years. Wow.
Burgess: Two years like everybody else. Two years.
Riggins: And how do they pay for it?
Burgess: Out of their pocket. Well, they pay for it out of their pocket, or they have grants. We have a lot of Pell grant students so, I mean, so they either qualify for Pell, or their parents pay for them to come.
Burgess: Loan, yeah, yeah. So because some of them now don't have any academic problems, but a lot of them do, probably because of their attitude that they haven't had to work maybe that hard.
Riggins: Well, in high school.
Burgess: In high school.
Riggins: They were probably ball players.
Burgess: And they're ball players. They just got good.
Riggins: They can get through based on that.
Burgess: Right. They've just gotten through. Right. So anyway, I've had a few in my class, and I've been impressed with their intelligence, right, and impressed with their intelligence after I've kind of gotten to know them and gotten their attention, and stuff. We got a good coach that makes them behave in class. He has all sorts of rules. If a teacher goes to him and says this is happening, he'll threaten them with sitting out a game if they don't shape up, and he'll do it. He'll throw them off the team if they're a big problem, you know. He cares about them as individuals. So I've started working with them on their study hall. He has them go to study hall once a day, so I proctor the study hall, and this is something I've just volunteered to do. And it's a lot of extra work, but it's one of those things, like I said, about the teacher thing, where I'm just kind of going with the teacher thing.
Riggins: You just can't stop yourself.
Burgess: I just can't, yeah, yeah. It's going with the teacher thing here. And, of course, he had them go to study hall, but he had them go to study hall but they weren't behaving. They were going, but he couldn't go and sit there with them, because he is also our recruiter.
Riggins: Does he have an assistant?
Burgess: He doesn't have an assistant.
Burgess: It's just him. And he's not, he's only part time ball coach. So he can't just do. He can't do that for his full time. He can't do that eight hours a day, right? So you tell them, go in this room and study, you know. And they go in the room, shut the door, and goof off. Right. So I just volunteered to proctor it. So now it's kind of become to volunteer tutoring them. So I've gotten a hold of their math textbooks, and the math teachers, and so we just started this week. So I had their homework that they're supposed to do from the math teachers.
Riggins: But they're not all in the same math class?
Burgess: Well, I've got them divided out.
Riggins: You have?
Burgess: It's like a one-room schoolhouse. Right? It's like these are in Math 140. These are in Math 70. These are in pre-calculus. I'm not sure I can help you with that but, you know, here's the teacher. Right. Okay. And I know you've got art this afternoon. You've got to read. Your art teacher said you're going, she told the class you're going to have a quiz.
Riggins: And they listen to you.
Burgess: They listen to me. They listen to me. Yeah.
Riggins: And they say this is it, you know.
Burgess: That's it. They do it.
Riggins: And the coach knows.
Burgess: The coach told me anything I want to do with them between eight and five, knock myself out. He's thrilled. He's thrilled.
Riggins: I'm sure.
Burgess: He's thrilled. He's thrilled.
Riggins: And he told the players.
Burgess: He goes like, "You do what Dr. Burgess says or else." See. So I've got his. He's not the principal.
Riggins: Right, right. He shows up on his grounds.
Burgess: Right. Well, yeah, oh, yeah, oh, yeah. And they'll say to me. And so I don't ever do anything that I don't clear with him, and stuff, of course, that's only. I tell him, he and I have got a good relationship. He's, hey, you know, I'm thrilled. So you talk about the teacher thing. I think that's when I really realized I really was a teacher, you know.
Riggins: How did you get to know-you got to know the players before you got to know the coach?
Burgess: I got to know the players because last year. Okay, last year my husband died in September.
Riggins: Yeah, I remember that.
Burgess: Right. And I kept, you know. Brunswick Community College was so wonderful to me and everything, and whatever. But I always had him in my mind all the time and stuff. And I had, this gets to ball players. Then I went and I had these, I had for ball players in my Biology 110 class. I didn't know they were ball players. Okay. And then one of them, his name is C.C. Williams. He plays for Towson, which plays against University of North Carolina Wilmington now. And C.C. would come up to me at the beginning of class, and say, "We're going to have to miss a few times because of ball." I said, "Oh, you guys are ball players. Oh." You know. Then I started kind of trying to follow it a little bit. When I went to one of their home games, it was the first time that my mind had gotten off of my grief. And I got so into their game, you know, and so I guess it sort of come from that, you know. And I saw myself kind of engaging again.
Riggins: Wow, that's great.
Burgess: So there's an emotional thing that needs. So this year.
Riggins: So then you got to know the coach.
Burgess: Then I got to know the coach. And then we got a whole new crowd of kids this year, and so then.
Riggins: You have the one-room schoolhouse.
Burgess: Yeah, the one-room schoolhouse. And that's kind of where I'm at now.
Riggins: So you have an hour a day?
Burgess: An hour a day. And then, well, and I've kind of extended it a little bit, too. And then I'm kind of doing this thing. I pulled out their files. Now, they had advisors, so I'm kind of walking a chalk line here, you know. So the advisors are their advisors, and stuff, you know, but I'm sort of a little extra help, you know. So I pull out their schedules. I know the ones that are in trouble, and the ones that have to get through the load this semester. I know they can do it, because I've talked to them. I know, you know. I know they can do it. They're also away from home, so mom and daddy, they're living away from home. So it's not an excuse. It's just kind of a different subset of our population.
Riggins: Right. Because a lot of the others are at home.
Burgess: Others are at homes, too. Yeah, yeah. So I got a few that I call on the phone in the mornings.
Burgess: It's not unlike me to do this kind of thing, because they have eight o'clock classes. And the teachers were getting mad because they were either not coming or strolling in, you know, forty-five minutes late, you know. Yeah. These guys are not understanding. They're just out of high school still, but this is just not going to cut it. So I got home phone numbers.
Riggins: They think it's okay. If they show up on time for practice, that's what counts.
Burgess: Oh, oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. But they're learning. They're learning. It's been a pretty steep learning curve this last week, but they're learning. So I got a couple that I ring up at seven o'clock when I get up.
Riggins: They like that.
Burgess: One of them, Corey, he said, "I'm up, Dr. Burgess." And then the other one, Montarrio , you know, he just didn't answer the phone, but he knew I called. So I called him, and then when I got in the car I just kept calling him, you know, as I'm going to school. They came, and they came in on time. They did. And Montarrio says, "I'm going to." He was kind of mad about it. He was kind of mad about it. But it's a love-hate relationship. It's not really hate, but it's.
Burgess: It's a parental thing. Yeah. It's a little parent. And I did this kind of thing here for students, too. There's stories about things I did here, too. And so I just kind of have to go with it. Go with it and just go with it, and don't let it kill you. Just go with it. So as I told them. I said, "Here's my rule." I said, "I'm going to call you every morning that you have an eight o'clock class, right, until you start coming to class on time." Because they were like ten minutes late then. "Once you come to class on time, one time, with me calling you, I'm not going to call you the next day. Alright?" Then, because I also see when they come in. I stand there and watch when they come in. Right? Yeah. "So then when you come to class without me calling you, then I'll quit calling you. Right. That's the rule." And then they'll say. Then they used to say, "I'm gonna tell coach." And I'll say, "Oh, tell coach." Because they would just say that like that's going to make, you know, and he thinks it's wonderful. He thinks it's great, you know.
Riggins: He's all for their (inaudible).
Burgess: He's all for it. They're kind of going, "Quit calling me in the morning." But last night at the game.
Riggins: They're sleeping, quit calling me.
Burgess: Yeah. Last night after the game, we had a game last night. Last night after the game was over, one of them, Montarrio , the one that didn't answer the phone that morning, he came up to me after the game, big, old, tall guy. Gave me a hug and he said, "Dr. Burgess, I apologize for talking to you the way I did about coming to class." So.
Riggins: Wow. That's big.
Burgess: Isn't that something?
Burgess: And I said, "Oh, you're cool." I said, "That's fine. I appreciate it." I said, "You're good. I'm proud of you." You know. And he goes on off. And I went over to the coach afterwards, and I said, "Did you tell him?" "I didn't talk to him." So it's a long story about the teaching thing, but it can get tiring, but that's, I think that's kind of, it's because I'm a teacher.
Riggins: That's what keeps you going. Yeah.
Burgess: Yeah. It's because I'm a teacher. Yeah.
Riggins: Right. It keeps you going when you're dealing with the lectures, where the kids drop. You have to keep reeling them back in.
Burgess: Right, right, right.
Riggins: But when you have a personal contact, it makes it more real. So how are they doing with their math?
Burgess: We're starting. We're starting.
Riggins: Because you're finding that some of them have some math?
Burgess: Oh. You know what I found out? I found out Montarrio Haddock, in years to come, when he is playing for the NBA, okay, and making tons of money, I want you all to know Montarrio Haddock, because he's an awesome ball player. Right? I tell him that, too. Right. So you had to have somebody. You got to manage your money yourself, right, because he really is. He's one that could go on and do quite well. But anyway, I sat down there with them, and I was talking to Montarrio . We were going through the stuff for, like they have a math test coming up Tuesday. And he was just whizzing through it. And I'm having to, I'm a chemist. Right. I haven't taught math before. I'm having to look in the back to double check these things, you know, terminology and stuff, you know. And I'm checking the answers in the back of my little teacher's edition that the math teachers have given me. And he's saying, "No. This is how you work it." I'm, "Well, show me how you got that. I don't see it." Well, I don't, you know. "Oh, yeah. That's it." "Show-I don't see how you got that." And he'll go through and do it, you know. He knew how to do all this math, and he was placed in developmental math the first semester. And I looked at him. I said, "How did you get placed in developmental math?" He said, "Oh, I just didn't want to take the test that day." You know, still like this, you know. Yeah. If I could just get them to understand to take it. Some of them actually do struggle, but they have the developmental, and they can get through the developmental and they get their work done, but they have to be disciplined about it to get it done in two years. And some of them won't make it in two years. Some of them, the rules are they can still play, because what coaches want them to be able to do is play at a four-year school. Now, he could play them at our school without some of these rules. They have their own rules. I mean, they can't. They have to have a certain grade point average, but there are certain. He's trying to get them graduated so that they can play at a four-year school. He's that kind of person. He cares about them graduating. Now, if they don't graduate in two years, they can take one extra year and still be eligible to play at a four-year school. Like if they come here, a student that comes here, they can sit out one year, but they can't sit out more than one year during that four-year period. So he tries to get it so they don't sit out during their first two years, so they've got a little leeway if they get in trouble the last two years. But if he has to, he can let them sit out with us.
Riggins: So they transfer without graduating properly.
Burgess: No, no. They would still have to graduate. They would have to say take, not play ball for a year for us, and stay with us, and get their degree in three years.
Riggins: I see.
Burgess: See what I'm saying. But then when they transfer, if they play ball, for the NCAA, whatever, you know, they won't have that. They will have spent that year, yeah, yeah. So there are all sorts of little rules like that, that I'm learning about.
Riggins: You're learning about.
Burgess: Yeah. I'm learning about. But that's the teacher thing. That's the teacher thing.
Riggins: There's probably an athletics council that you'll be on, or something, before long.
Burgess: I don't know. I don't know. But they do see me around there on campus, and the teachers kind of smile at me and stuff, you know. So I'm trying to be a little bit of a liaison, because the ball players get their "I'm a ball player" attitude going, and it offends some of the teachers, rightly so. So I'm having to say to the ball players, "You can't act like that."
Riggins: It's not high school. They don't care that you're a ball player.
Burgess: They don't care. Right, exactly. It's academic. And I'm having to sort of say to the teachers, "These are kids, and I'm going to try to work with them, and let me know if I could do something to help you." And try to soften them up a little bit, and have them let me know ahead of time when somebody's in trouble, so maybe we can cut if off. It's the same thing the coach has been doing all along. I'm just trying to kind of help him with it, in addition to teaching my classes.
Riggins: So you're his assistant basically.
Burgess: Yeah. But it's like very unofficial. It's very. I just kind of fell into it this year, and I kept saying to him, you know, "I'm not trying to do. Whatever you want, is whatever." He said, "Listen, you're fine."
Riggins: We're a team.
Burgess: "You are fine." He said, you know, "You're fine." But what I get out of it is the students, when the students come up and say, you know. Well, not so much that I'm great. I mean, everybody likes to be told they're great. But when they come up and they say, you know, "I got that." Yeah. This one student, Corey, he's just as sweet as he can be. He's about as tall as this room. Huge. Has to duck his head to go in that door, I'm sure. Sweet, but they're boys. They're tall, but they're boys. He comes up and he says, "I got a 76 on my math test." So now, that's good. That's good. That may not sound good to you, but that's good. That's not a 40. So I'm saying, "That's good. That's good. That's good." So he's bragging about what he's doing. So I've kind of . . .
Riggins: That's neat.
Burgess: Still a teacher. Still teaching, you know.
Riggins: Yeah. And I had no idea that you were full time at.
Burgess: Yeah. I'm full time, yeah, right.
Riggins: When I called you, and you were like, oh, just busy, you know, with stuff. So that's great. Well, before I end, I'd like to just hear a little bit more about your colleagues and folks here who influenced you, administrators maybe, or colleagues, in and out of your department.
Burgess: I love all these people here. All these people here are wonderful. Jack Levy hired me. And I kept thanking him for that, as I said earlier.
Riggins: And he told you to stop.
Burgess: Told me to stop.
Riggins: But he didn't say it like that.
Burgess: Yeah, he did, basically say it like that. Right. Becky Jones sort of took me under her wing and mothered me, and made sure that I, like I said, checked my mail. And then when we did get voice. Anyway, very encouraging of me.
Riggins: When you got voice messaging.
Burgess: Voice message, check your voice mail. Right? That sort of thing.
Riggins: Check your email.
Burgess: Check my mail. No, no. She, anyhow, yeah. She pretty much had me in the throes of it when that happened. I have to speak about Louis Stance, if you want to talk about people that have passed on. He was someone that really cared about students. He passed away of cancer when he was still teaching, when he was not too much older than I am now. And I think he was about 60. And he would come by, stand in the door, and just stand there and talk. When we over in DeLoach we did a lot of that because to get from one office to the other you passed everybody's office. And so seems like there was more conversation and informal conversation then, than there was when we moved over to the other building. And we kind of got more involved in our individual interests and stuff. But the department has always remained very cohesive, a very supportive department. My daughter, when she was a little girl, would come over and spend the afternoons with me. Probably not supposed to say that. It's already been done now, in my office. I was always one of these who never asked permission, just asked forgiveness later.
Riggins: Yeah, yeah. That's a good way to do it.
Burgess: Well, it worked for me. But she would come in. Had a little desk in my office, and everybody was really fine with it. I was single during that time, and so I'd get her from school or whatever, during the years when she didn't. She was too big to go to daycare. Yeah, yeah. But not quite old enough to go home by herself. And she ended up coming back out here and getting a major in chemistry.
Burgess: And so she had some of the same people that had seen her trucking down the hall with a little book bag on her back and stuff. I know Bart Jones would say, "Well, it must be three thirty. Mary's here." She'd come in with her little book bag and sit down. Go get her a snack. Sit down and do her homework. So to have an environment that I could do that in was very important to me when I was single, particularly when I was single. They were always very concerned about me.
Riggins: Did you have one child?
Burgess: I had one child. Very concerned. They were really my family back then, particularly, again, particularly after my husband and I got divorced. Spent a lot of time around, but really just very supportive and very much family.
Riggins: Spent a lot of time in the lab?
Burgess: Spent a lot of time in the lab. Yeah. I spent a lot of time on campus, and a lot of time in the lab. Jack Levy and Doris, his wife, would invite me to go to movies with them, without, just me. Yeah. Jack might come by on Friday afternoons and say, "Well, Doris and I are going to go see so and so. Do you want to come?" You know, thinking maybe I didn't have anything to do, if I wasn't dating anybody right then, or something. And so I'd go with them, and we'd go, the three of us go to the movies together. I mean, how many people would do that, just kind of let a single woman tag along on their date night, and stuff, you know, very, very caring people, very caring people. Louis Stance, when he got sick with cancer, I would email him quite a bit, and we had some good conversations on the email. He was someone that loved students. Louis Stance loved students. Loved his subject. Did not try to make his subject easy for students. Wanted students to struggle. He felt like that struggling was a part of learning, and he was right. He was right about that. Dick Ward brought computers to our department, and was, is a very organized and, again, all these people are very caring people. They're very caring in their own way. Yeah. He's meticulous about things, but very professional, loved general chemistry, got our general chemistry program up and organized. That was his charge when he first came there, to reorganize the general chemistry program. And so he was outstanding in that. Joan Willey, in her quiet way, is such a foundation for the department and for everybody. People don't realize until they get to know her what a family person she is. She's got two little grandbabies now, and when I go to see her she's showing me pictures of the grandchildren. Of course, she was the one that's been the research outstanding leader in our department for years. And she was always the one that I wanted to be like, as far as research goes. Always looked up to her as far as that goes, very fair, very analytical. At faculty meetings we would all talk at the same time, you know, interrupt each other and stuff. And then Joan would not do that. But when she said something, everybody just got quiet. I don't think she even noticed it, but I noticed it. The rest of us might be doing this, but when she said something, she thought it out and it was going to be something you wanted to hear. Right?
Riggins: That's admirable. Yeah.
Burgess: Isn't that something?
Riggins: Instead of, yeah, because I talk and I don't think before I talk.
Burgess: I'm like that. Right. I'm like that.
Riggins: I feel a need to fill up the silence.
Burgess: Yeah. And she might sit there, and I'm sure she still does this, and kind of process everything everybody's saying, and then would say something. Never had to raise her hand. Never had to interrupt, just would. She started to speak, everybody just listened to her, you know. Yeah. Fred Hornack, a character, fun, just very bright, very brilliant, brilliant man, maybe more so than students appreciated, because of his kind of eccentricities himself. He would do things to play. He would pretend like he forgot things, just so people would, just to tease people. So he wasn't as absent minded as he let on. Yeah. He would play with people. And he would just enjoy-
Riggins: That's right. I'm sure he'd fool most of them.
Burgess: Yeah, oh, yeah. People would say, "Oh, that man's out there." He knew exactly what he was doing. Yeah. For a long time, I tell on Fred here, for a long time he refused to buy a parking sticker, and he parked over in Hardee's Parking Lot and walked across. He did that for years.
Riggins: He didn't tell me on the tape.
Burgess: Yeah. He did that. He did that. But he just, you know, he just needed to do something on that one.
Riggins: For many years, Noah had to, I guess.
Burgess: I guess, and he just didn't. You'd see him walking across, because we were over there in Deloach and he would just be coming across, you know. Dr. Hancock, dear man, dear, dear, dear man, after his wife died and before, too, he would bake things for us and bring food in.
Riggins: He is quite the baker.
Burgess: Yes, yes. And if you were on his list, I miss that now. If you were on his list of people to get food, count yourself fortunate, because he brings. He probably brought these to you.
Riggins: He did.
Burgess: He brings flowers.
Riggins: He did.
Burgess: He brings his flowers. Here is flowers from Dr. Hancock. And if he brings you flowers and like he'll bring you like candy or something he's baked. He'll try like a new recipe and bring things in. I miss that so bad with him. And just a very deep, caring person, but you need to get a hold of some of his poetry. If I can. If you will remind me sometime if I don't forget it, I will copy the one I have, because we would just stick it in a file, and he has some beautiful things, very deep things, though, about the AIDS quilt and things like that that you might not think looking at him the he would think that seriously, the kind of dark things, the very moving kinds of things. What was I talking about? Becky Pam Seton, Pam Seton came after I was there, outstanding in her research, very organized, a person that knows a lot of organic chemistry. She lived in Alaska, which I thought was cool. She got her master's degree at the University of Fairbanks. We always said that's cool that she lived in Alaska. And Bob Kieber, when he came, he was kind of the baby. I'm skipping over Warren, aren't I? Bob Kieber and Pam were real good friends back then. I think they're still friends, but Bob and Pam used to collaborate some on research and they would go have coffee together once a day. We were over in DeLoach. And Bart would go with them, Bart Jones, and I would always want to be asked, but I would never go. Once in awhile I would go, but they'd go down the hallway, say we're going for coffee. And I'd stick my head out and say, "Well, you didn't ask me." And they'd say, "Do you want to go, Sybil?" I'd say, "No, I can't go right now." You know. But I always wanted. They teased me about, well, that's why we don't ask you because you don't ever go with us. Right. Bob is a lot of fun. Bob Kieber's a lot of fun, gets great student evaluations. Used to, at least. I'm sure he still does. Very funny in class, very bright, an early riser, gets there and gets things done, and very efficient. Desk was always clean, never anything. Never anything left over. Give it to him, it gets done.
Burgess: Yeah. Cecilia is, I don't know Cecilia quite as well, but she's very organized. She's taking over Becky's job. Many years now she's had Becky's job. But she organizes all the labs and runs the labs, and a very sweet, kind, kind of person, and keeps all that stuff running real well.
Riggins: Did you get to know people outside the department very much?
Burgess: I did. I did.
Riggins: I mean, you may not have had time, but I know there was a group that was faculty who often ate lunch together over on West Side.
Burgess: Right, right. I did that for awhile. Yeah, I did that. And that's how I got to meet, and I do that at Brunswick Community College now. I would go over and eat, and I met some people in art, and that's how I got to know Roger Lowry, because Roger Lowry always ate over there. And some of them now I can't even remember. It was a certain group that would eat over there, and I would. I would just pop in over there. It's a great way to meet people.
Riggins: Met Rick Warren.
Burgess: Met Rick Warren. That's right. That's right, would eat over there. That's right.
Riggins: Sylvia Bogart.
Burgess: Sylvia Bogart. That's right, that's right, that's right. Yeah. If you call the names, yeah. That's right. That's right. That's right.
Riggins: And then, of course, you got to know people in the library.
Burgess: Yes, because you come in the library. Cleta. Cleta was one of my favorites. Not supposed to have favorites, right. And Sue and I got together, because we went on a cruise in the early part of the '80s. We were both divorced. We had just both recently divorced, before she married again. And we went on a cruise, not a cruise. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I went on a cruise. Not a cruise. We went on a trip to England. I did go on a cruise, too, but not with her. We went on a trip to England with John Evans, who was the lecturer in the English Department, and he took a group of English students over there. And he needed some faculty people to fill out some slots, so he could get a free trip, so we went over spring break. And Sue was my roommate. And that's how we got to be friends, because she sort of took care of me. We were, you know, we were assigned to each other, you know. So she, of course, librarian here in the library. So she sort of took care of me, is what, because I was the one that was always losing things or whatever, and she was kind of keeping me organized. And we came back from that real good friends. So that's how I got to know her. We didn't know each other before then. I remember we went on one of these little meetings before the trip, and I said to her, "Well, I guess we should get together and get to know each other, or something, before we're roommates." And then we both were busy, and we both said, "Well, hey, it doesn't matter. If we don't get along, it's only a week." Yeah, right. Right. But we did get along, so we got to be good friends. And Eugene Huguelet, who was in the library, I got to know through Sue, and still see him through Sue and stuff, Gene and Joyce. But that little department, John Mannock came to us through Research Administration, and then started teaching in the department. And he's been a great asset to the department. And Ned Martin, who was my chairman after Jack Levy, and he and I are friends. And I guess that's kind of it, isn't it? Went through them, I think, kind of running down the hall there. We were also, we were in the same building. I forgot his name. Oh, Bart, Bart Jones. Bart Jones, I would stand in the middle of traffic on College Road and direct traffic if Bart Jones told me to. He's just been outstanding to me personally. He cares about students so, so much. Cares about their academic integrity and academic ability, to the point that he many times will not give students like a point or two on something because he feels that strongly that they have to do it right. I don't mean it in a bad way, but he's real strict with his students because.
Riggins: He has strong beliefs.
Burgess: Strong, strong, and you're not going to budge him from it. But yet he will go all the way to Raleigh to see somebody graduate from FBI school, you know. That's just common for him. Keeps up with his students after they leave. He's really, really student oriented. But don't try to get anything over on him and stuff. He's not going to do that. Helped me a whole lot. My father died when I was here at University of North Carolina Wilmington, and I was very close to my daddy, and took some time out to help with financial things at home. When I came back, it doesn't sound like that big of thing because parents die. But when I came back it was hard for me to kind of get my mind back on things. And he just came in and gave me his syllabus and laid it down on my desk for the 101 class I was teaching. He said, "Here's my syllabus. You might just modify it." Of course, it was a departmental service. It wasn't anything wrong with it, but he didn't make a big deal about things. He just said, "What can I do to help you?" He's that kind of person. He would just, you know, "Here, let me help you." So I really appreciate that. And Sharon Appleton, our secretary, she's just been the mother hen to all of them. She's not over there now. She's retired. And always care about you, and care about what's going on with everybody, and all the students and all the faculty, and make sure everything's going straight.
Riggins: Getting everybody ready for graduation.
Burgess: Everybody ready for graduation. Everybody ready for this. Everybody for that, all this kind of, you know. Knows who's where, and everything, and talk to her. She's got to answer the phone, but she still wants to talk to you, and just a real caring kind of place like that. Yeah.
Riggins: She was still there when I started here.
Burgess: Right, right.
Riggins: That sure was a together department. I'm sure it still is.
Burgess: Yeah. I think so. I think so. I think that's the same. Now, since my daughter was there, after she became a student there, she just graduated like I said. I sort of backed off from interacting with them because I didn't want anybody to think I was trying to get her any favors, you know. And so they said, "Oh, we know." And I said, "No, I want to avoid the appearance of anything." And I didn't go to lunch with anybody or anything like that. But now I'm kind of, now she's gone. Now I can kind of come back, and I marched in graduation this year. I marched in December.
Riggins: Is that when she graduated?
Burgess: When she graduated. I asked them, because as a retired faculty you can march. And so I guess they were glad, however I marched. And so that was kind of neat. And then I sat with the faculty in the reception thing, so that was.
Riggins: Oh, for the department.
Burgess: For the department. So that was the special, you know, kind of coming around, kind of thing.
Riggins: Oh, great. How exciting.
Burgess: So anyway.
Riggins: And she picked the same department.
Burgess: Yes, the same department. Isn't that something? And I did not encourage her to do that. Not because it's not a good department, but I just thought it might be. Since she was, like I said, a little kid there, grew up there, I thought. But she enjoyed it, and she's fine. She is like me, except the emphasis is the other way. She is primarily a horse trainer, and she and her husband have a horse farm, also. And a baby horse farm that I have, my little school horses, but she does that really primarily. And has been doing some chemistry things. Now she's looking for a job, but she's, the chemistry is sort of something secondary and the horse stuff is the primary. And I'm kind of the other thing. I'm the chemist, the teaching is the primary and the horse stuff is secondary.
Riggins: And you thought when you retired it would be.
Burgess: It would be the other way, yeah, but it just kind of falls back. Yeah.
Riggins: Do you have to have people help you with the horses, or can you?
Burgess: No, I don't.
Riggins: You do it all.
Burgess: I do it. I do. I don't have as many as we had when Billy was alive. And they're older, and they know the routine. The horses I have are ones I've done, what you would call school horses, that I've done my camps with and stuff. And some of them are older horses that have been in the family for awhile that are just going to retire out with me. And then I have little ponies I do birthday parties with-that I take and lead the little ponies around at parties. And I've backed off from doing that since Billy died, but I'm starting to go back to it.
Riggins: They go to your place for the parties, or you go?
Burgess: I haven't done that yet. I'm thinking. I'm thinking. What I've done is I've gone to the places. I've had to restructure some financially after my husband died. And sold some of the horses. Sold my horse trailers and sold a few things. The horse trailers needed repair, and I didn't have the money to repair it anyway, so anyway restructuring some. But I'm not advertising now for the pony parties, but I still have people that have used me in the past, and they call me. So what I do when that happens is I get my daughter, borrow her trailer, and I take it over there. But I'm going to ease back into it. And that was not about people dying, but when you do have a death of a spouse, there's a-(audio ends abruptly) (Tape Change)
Riggins: Here we are back at University of North Carolina Wilmington. This is Dr. Burgess opposite me. My name is Adina Riggins. Today June 22, 2007, we're in the University Archives. And we're here to put some finishing touches on an interview that was started way back in January 26, 2007. Unfortunately the second tape cut off a little bit in the middle of what you were saying. I just didn't want it to cut off right there. I wanted there to be some more closure to what you were discussing. I remember the thoughts you were talking about-you were talking, on a sad note, the last tape ends right when you were talking about when you lose a spouse, you go through a change. And I can't say I remember all the details of what you were saying, but it was when I was asking you about your closing thoughts about this interview. And what place does University of North Carolina Wilmington have in your memories? What is it about University of North Carolina Wilmington that makes it unique? I believe I was asking that and you were talking and were cut off at that point. Not that you remember what you said then.
Burgess: This will be a nice little quiz to see if it's the same as I said back in January. University of North Carolina Wilmingtons it's a special place, a very special to me. University of North Carolina Wilmington was the place that allowed me to become a university professor, allowed me to grow in that field, allowed me to really become a chemist, because you're not really a chemist just when you get your degree, you know, you become that. A lot of good friends and a lot of close ties here still. I know we talked a lot about my teaching at Brunswick Community College now and losing my husband. And that's, you know, one of life's passages, you know, I'll say. But I'm starting a new project now with University of North Carolina Wilmington.
Riggins: Tell us a bit about that.
Burgess: Yeah, so we'll see if we hopefully won't run out on this tape, I won't talk too long on this. I'm going back to get a master's degree here in biology. My PhD is in biochemistry. I didn't get a master's degree. Back when I was doing that, lots of times you didn't get master's degree, you just went straight through to your PhD. And I'm teaching biology and chemistry at Brunswick Community College and so I decided it would be kind of nice to take some graduate courses in biology, additional graduate courses. And so, I say I'm doing this, I haven't actually got accepted yet. So let's say I'm pursuing this. I'm pursuing this.
Riggins: But you've met with some faculty.
Burgess: I have met with faculty. I have met with faculty.
Riggins: And some of them were here-
Burgess: And they agreeable-
Riggins: They were your former colleagues?
Burgess: Exactly. I've got Joel Mintzes, who is in the biology department who does research on biological education and styles of learning. He and I've met. And he would be or will be, I guess, my thesis advisor. He's agreed to do that. I still have to meet with Ann Pabst, Dr. Pabst who's the graduate coordinator and see what I need to do to get accepted and that sort of thing. So, I haven't actually been accepted yet. So let's just, you know, make sure this is on record, at this point, June the 22nd '07 I haven't actually been accepted. But Dr. Mintzes has agreed to work with me and also if I decided not to actually get the degree, he said he would still work with me on any kind of research project that I wanted to do. My idea's to use my students at Brunswick Community College as guinea pigs to look at different types of methods of delivering information and that sort of thing.
Riggins: Is that something you focus on, education?
Burgess: Focusing on the education, right.
Riggins: But it will be a BS in biology?
Burgess: No, it will be a-it's a master's. A master's in biology, an MS in biology, right. Right. So, anyways, we'll see. You might interview me again in about-it will probably take awhile, seven or eight years because I'm going to be part time and see if I actually get it. But, anyway, that's kind of a nice to come back and do that with people that I used to be colleagues with.
Riggins: I've noticed some of your basketball players have moved on to four-year colleges.
Burgess: Yes. Yes. Only graduated four this year because we had a big freshman class. But, you know, they've-one has gone to Mount Olive, which is a small four-year school. Now let's see if I can remember where everybody's gone.
Riggins: Is that the one in Wilmington or North Carolina?
Burgess: No. That is an extension of that college, but there's actually a Mount Olive College in the town of Mount Olive. That's kind of one of their outreach programs. And then one's going to Coastal and one has gone to Elizabeth City and Catawba. So they've gone to smaller four-year schools.
Riggins: But they're going to play there?
Burgess: They're going to play there and going to school there. Hopefully have a big graduating class this year, because like I said, we have a lot-have a lot of freshmen, so now we have a lot of sophomores. My goal is to have a lot of big tall basketball players walking across the podium, you know, with their gowns and their caps on. So that will be pretty neat.
Riggins: I know you talked about that in your first interview.
Burgess: Yes. We had-it's been a very good semester and it's been a very good semester. A lot of busyness with that, but a very good semester with that, yeah.
Riggins: Thank you for coming in.
Burgess: You're welcome, we don't want to run all of this and make it three or four tapes.