Dylan Burd

Dylan Burd: Leading the way to equality for all

Bachelor of Arts, Secondary Education: English, 2014; Master of Arts in Higher Education Administration, 2016 | School of Education
Title: Impact manager, City Year Kansas City
Hometown: Lebanon, MO

Dylan Burd portrait

Why did you choose UMKC?

It had the programs I was looking for, and I also just knew I needed to get away from home. Kansas City just felt right.

What was your favorite thing about UMKC?

My favorite thing – and I realized this very quickly – was the diversity on campus. I’m from a very small, non-diverse, conservative town with one mainstream way of thinking, feeling, experiencing and living. UMKC was the first time I got a lot of insight into the experiences and perspectives of people who were different from me. So much of what I thought I knew and what I believed about the world was simply not true.

What did you learn about yourself at UMKC?

I learned everything about myself at UMKC. I often feel that I didn’t truly begin living my life, or understand who I was at all, until I moved away from home and received an education. Mostly, I learned that I was a leader. I never really thought of myself as a leader, or put myself into those kinds of roles before going to college, but in going to UMKC and surrounding myself with the people I did, I was able to have a support system in place that taught and led me through some amazing personal, professional and academic development.

Also, I wouldn’t necessarily say I learned this about myself from being at UMKC, but it wasn’t until then that I was finally comfortable, confident and supported enough to come out and accept myself as a gay man. I am forever thankful to UMKC for teaching me that this aspect about myself wasn’t everything my family, church and community had always hated and feared it to be.

“My favorite thing – and I realized this very quickly – was the diversity on campus.”

Who was the most influential faculty or staff member at UMKC, and why?

Dr. Uzziel Pecina (School of Education). Dr. Pecina’s charismatic teaching style, passion, and genuine care and concern for his students, their lives and their learning is absolutely outstanding. The crucial content he covered, questions he raised, and voices he uplifted and gave representation to, forever changed and impacted my worldview. I have never had a teacher who inspired me more than Dr. Pecina, or who made me believe in my ability to make an impact, more than he did. I look forward to having him and his mariachi band play at my wedding this summer!

Do you have any advice for students entering UMKC?

Take advantage of the resources around you. There are a lot of very devoted, committed individuals on this campus who are ready and willing to help you with whatever problems may be going on. Seek out every resource. Take advantage of every opportunity.

Dylan Burd portrait

Tell us about your current position.

I am an impact manager with an AmeriCorps nonprofit called City Year. I work in one of our local high schools, where I lead a team of 11 AmeriCorps members who go into primarily freshman math and English courses to help with academics, behavior and attendance. We also do after-school tutoring and other special programming.

City Year aims to reduce dropout rates, particularly in areas of concentrated poverty where schools are often under-funded and under-resourced, and as a result have high dropout rates. We try to help out and “make better happen” – that’s our motto.

Did you always know you wanted to do that type of work?

No. When I started at UMKC, my major was chemistry for pre-dental. That quickly did not work out. I kind of forgot the part that you have to be good at math and science.

I was always really great in music – singing and choir and band. I had always thought that if dentistry didn’t work out I would go into music education, but then right before my audition I realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do.

Then I did a work-study at Jumpstart, an educational AmeriCorps nonprofit. That was really the experience that revealed my passion for education, teaching and social justice.

How did UMKC help you reach your current position?

UMKC offered so many different opportunities in class and on campus to gain insight, exposure, and knowledge of those with diverse cultures, perspectives and experiences. I was also fortunate to be able to take advantage of and be supported through various leadership roles in multiple student organizations – such as the Union Programming Board and LGBTQIA Programs and Services – which helped create a strong network.

What are the challenges of your field?

I think the education field is extremely undervalued for the crucial role it plays in advancing our society and keeping us competitive socially, globally and economically. So many of those working in the education field, especially teachers, are grossly underpaid for the amount of work they do, the time it takes and the stress they bear.

Furthermore, many schools are understaffed and under-resourced, not to mention still struggling with the lingering effects of systemically-racist laws, policies and practices that maintain a cycle of poverty and inadequate education.

What are the benefits?

The reward of getting to build positive relationships with students and have a part in helping to lead and guide them to personal and academic success and fulfillment is indescribable. To even have a chance of making a positive impact and difference in the course of someone’s life, and getting to see them achieve in some way because of something you may have contributed, makes it all worth it.

Dylan Bird portrait

What are your interests outside of work?

One area that’s taking up a lot of my life at the moment is getting involved politically. I am the director of subcommittees and education for the new Kansas City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. Basically, we look for people who are passionate about an issue and connect them with other organizations working to advance the same thing. We help educate people on how to get involved and make progressive change in Kansas City.

Is there any particular issue that is close to your heart?

I identify as a gay man, so LGBT issues are important to me. It’s nice to be acknowledged the same under the law as anybody else in a relationship – to be respected and protected.

In addition to that, my fiancé was an undocumented immigrant, so immigrants’ rights and immigration reform is a really big issue. We just had to hastily make a trip to Mexico ourselves to try to work out some immigration things. It was really scary, because there was the issue of being denied re-entry or deported or detained. There was a super high risk that that was going to be the position he would be put in, and we didn’t know what would happen until we tried.

And then working all day, every day, in a school that is demographically comprised of minority populations, whether it be religious or racial, makes things like racial justice and criminal justice reform really important. They’re all connected, because so many of the things that create these problems are a result of the same systems and institutions.

What is one word that best describes you and why?

I would say determined. I would use this word, because in spite of challenges like being a first-generation college student from a low-income family, moving to a new city where I didn’t know anyone and being disowned by a side of the family after coming out and getting to some of the lowest moments of not being sure if I could continue, I still managed to persevere and accomplish the goals I had set out for myself. Going to college and completing a degree isn’t easy, but it cannot be accomplished without determination.

What are your lifelong goals?

In general, whatever capacity or role that I’m working in, I want to be actively making positive change to my community – helping those around me to learn and grow and develop into a place of happiness and fulfillment and peace. The way I do that might change throughout my life, but that’s going to stay constant.

Do you have a motto?

I have a favorite quote. It’s on the signature line in my email: “Justice will only exist where those not affected by injustice are filled with the same amount of indignation as those offended.” That’s by Plato.

I try to live my life by the golden rule of treating people how you want to be treated. With my work revolving so heavily around social justice – there’s a key component of empathy required to be successful. I have experienced so many people saying and doing things that – if they were on the receiving end, it would never be acceptable. I try to make the world around me more understanding of those who are different.

What makes you unique?

I’ve been fortunate to have a very diverse experience and exposure – coming from a small town and then immersing myself into areas where I knew I wasn’t comfortable. I put myself in situations that consistently challenge my perspective and experience.

What’s your favorite place in Kansas City?

This might be a little bit atypical, but home! I’m kind of a homebody.