50 Making a Difference Profile: Sylvia M. Burgess, J.D., Cameron University in Lawton, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs

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Two decades ago Lawton's Sylvia Burgess was in the midst of a flourishing career as a tax and business attorney with Burgess, Burgess, Burgess & Hightower. Yet her success wasn't personally satisfying. The result was a significant career shift, eventually leading to her current position as associate vice president for academic affairs for Lawton's Cameron University.

"While working as an attorney, my biggest joy came from helping people who had been taken advantage of, who had no place to turn for help," Burgess said. "I helped them for almost nothing, and felt very happy with resolving their problems."

In the mid-1990s, as the number of employment law rules, regulations and lawsuits was exploding, Burgess approached Cameron about the need for a course on employment law. To her surprise, she was asked to teach the course. After refusing initially, she agreed to teach two nights a week, and said the university environment "felt like I was home. After the first night I was hooked."

Today her skills and experience are recognized at the local, state and national level. For instance, she has served as division chairwoman for the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (USASBE), as a member and presenter for the Oxford Round Table in Oxford, England, and a chairwoman of the investment committee for Phi Kappa Phi international, where she worked with more than $34 million in investments used to provide scholarships.

In spite of her extensive duties with Cameron and national organizations, Burgess also makes time for civic involvement. To name just a few, she was the first female president of the Comanche County Bar Association and only the second chairwoman of the Lawton- Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce. She also is a founding director and board member for the Southwest Oklahoma Medical Education Foundation.

"I have always enjoyed a positive outlook, even at times when my personal challenges seemed insurmountable," Burgess said. "In the mid-1990s I had an incredibly demanding workload, my parents had advancing Alzheimer's disease and required much attention, and my children (then 8 and 10) needed and received lots of Mom time. …


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