Executive Director RIT K-12 University Center
Executive Director RIT K-12 University Center
Through strategic vision, collaboration and heart, Donna Burnette has grown Rochester Institute of Technology’s K-12 University Center from a side dish to a main entrée.
Burnette is credited with bringing in the largest research grant in the history of RIT — a big endeavor for a small department. RIT’s K-12 center administers grant-funded programs such as the Army Educational Outreach Program’s Apprenticeships and Fellowships, the Liberty Partnerships Program, and the Science and Technology Entry Program. Annually serving more than 5,000 students from kindergarten to career, K-12 has gained a reputation on federal, state and local levels for being an agent of transformative change.
Burnette came to RIT in 2016 from Virginia Tech where she helped lead AEOP’s first consortium. Following her husband, who also worked at RIT and helped bring her back home, she accepted a position at the university – now, as executive director of the K-12 center that manages the RIT-Rochester Prep High School partnership, provides campus experiences for local youth, and facilitates RIT’s largest and oldest summer day camp. She’s also the principal investigator for all RIT K-12 grants and is the director of AEOP Apprenticeships and Fellowships, administered on behalf of the U.S. Army to provide high school through postdoctoral individuals with paid, hands-on STEM research internships in Army-sponsored labs and partner universities across the country.
As executive director, Burnette oversees the strategic development for all programs within the K-12 center and advises the RIT community on best opportunities through the center for students, families, teachers, schools, organizations and others the unit connects with. She also develops and oversees funding sources, and the implementation of programs. The common thread to Burnette’s work is nurturing the problem-solvers and change-makers of the future.
Burnette, a Town of Greece native – graduated from Greece Athena High School and attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she studied biology. After graduating from MIT – and through an educational journey that took her to RIT and the University of Rochester – she was inspired to continue her education at Virginia Tech for a masters’ degree and doctoral work in Science and Technology Studies.
That, she said, was sparked from a class she took on science, technology and human values in 1998 at RIT.
“That class changed my life and RIT actually shaped my life because of that in so many ways,” she said. “I realized there was a whole other field where you can be a lover of science and think about the interface with people, so my transition to Virginia Tech was focused on understanding that science and technology are all shaped through the human lens.”
After graduating from Virginia Tech, and through work with New York State’s Science and Technology Entry Program at LeMoyne College and Monroe Community College, she eventually ended up back at the Blacksburg, Virginia-based university to run the first AEOP consortium. That lasted for five years before coming to RIT.
In just a few years after her return, Burnette and RIT K-12’s Director of Finance and Operations Jess Small responded to Battelle Memorial Institute, the new lead organization for AEOP, in its call to identify a new AEOP consortium member. In less than two weeks, the two put together a grant proposal on behalf of RIT and were awarded $14 million during five years through the Army Materiel Command to support AEOP Apprenticeships. A year later, additional funding was secured through the Department of Defense’s National Defense Education Program to develop and implement a robust fellowship program on behalf of AEOP.
Calling her efforts “a work of passion” that leads to transformative change in the community, Burnette connects with the rest of the K-12 staff to create authentic engagements by being embedded in what they do and creating a program filled of mentors for the next generation of STEM innovators – many who take their interests and talents to RIT.
“I feel a greater calling to the work that I do and want to do work that makes a difference,” she said. “Our angle is to really be an agent of change in our community through partnerships, engagement and collaborations.”
When not working, Burnette said she enjoys family adventures and exploring Canandaigua, where she recently moved with her husband and two daughters. She also enjoys vacationing in Maine, driving golf carts, and relaxing by the water.
In the News
October 27, 2023
RIT grad has passion for serving native youth through unique STEM opportunities at Northern Arizona University and the U.S. Army
Dr. Naomi Lee is passionate about involving native youth in science, technology, engineering and math; and to prove there’s a STEM identity and need within the indigenous community. Lee, a Rochester Institute of Technology grad, hosts a program at Northern Arizona University that helps expose STEM innovation and research experiences to underserved students. It's sponsored in part by Army Educational Outreach Program Apprenticeships and Fellowships, which is administered through RIT’s K-12 University Center.
September 19, 2023
‘It’s a fantastic space’: RIT K-12 University Center heads downtown
WHEC-TV talks to Donna Burnette, executive director of RIT K-12 University Center, about the center's move to downtown Rochester.
September 15, 2023
Ribbon cutting celebrates K-12 University Center’s move to downtown Rochester
On Wednesday morning, RIT President David Munson, K-12 University Center Executive Director Donna Burnette, and Rochester Mayor Malik Evans cut the ribbon in front of the K-12 University Center’s new home at 40 Franklin St., in the heart of downtown Rochester. This move from RIT’s Henrietta campus to the city will allow the center to greatly expand the connections it has already forged with the Rochester community.