BYU information systems professor Lara Burton managed to follow her passion for teaching, even while raising her sons and overcoming two separate brain injuries.
Burton recalls her love for technology and computers stemming from her early adolescence. She said she was teased in grade school and found solace in the computer her father had brought home from work one evening.
She learned the ins and outs of the computer and began programming by the time she entered middle school.
“It was like a giant puzzle, and my mind just loved solving (it),” Burton said.
She gave up her technological interests for a time because of a lack of computers in high school. It wasn’t until she attended her first computer science class at BYU that she was able to rekindle her passion for computers.
“I kept not wanting to do (computer science), but I kept coming back,” Burton said.
Burton got married and had two sons upon graduating from BYU. She took the role of motherhood as her first priority even when she had opportunities to be working full-time.
“I still kept going, but it was always part-time because it was important for me to be home with my kids,” Burton said.
She said her job at BYU has been more rewarding than other jobs she could have taken.
“I am paid much less here than I would at the industry, but I chose it because for me it’s not about the money,” Burton said. “I love working at BYU and I love working with the students.”
Burton said she enjoys being a female role model to the women in the Marriott School of Business, especially in the Department of Information Systems, where she teaches introductory courses.
“I think having a strong female role model will let them (female IS students) see that they can do this,” Burton said.
She said it’s important for students to look within themselves and ask if their goal is really what they want to do. She described the frustration she faces when seeing students measure overall success with exterior results and benchmarks.
“To me what matters is the inward person, and you can’t checkmark that,” Burton said.
Burton said she personally understands the necessity of being pragmatic.
Burton told her son, who initially started college as a music major, “If you are passionate enough about it, let’s find a way to make it work.”
When she was told to retire after her second brain injury, she said she realized she loved teaching too much to give it up just yet.
“I’m going to (teach) until I can’t.” Burton said. “I wouldn’t teach here if BYU didn’t have such amazing students and I don’t know what I’ll do when I can’t teach.”
Burton said she urges her students to accept the curve balls life throws at them.
“My advice for students is to always be kind because you don’t know the burdens people carry,” she said.
BYU student Clarissa Peters had Burton as a professor when she first started attending school at BYU. Peters said she liked having a female role model to look up to in a field that is predominantly male.
“I respected her for what she was doing, especially in the technology side of business,” Peters said. “I also appreciate that she made me want to participate.”
Bogdan Mukhametkahen has worked for Burton as a teaching assistant for about two years. He said she helps students by either guiding them through the assignments or just being there for them personally.
“She’s like a teacher I’ve never met before,” he said.
He said if Burton isn’t helping students with their assignments, she is a resource for students to turn to when they are bogged down in stress.
Burton’s department chair, Bonnie Anderson, expressed gratitude for the example Burton sets for female students across the Marriott School, especially for those in information systems.
Anderson has been the only woman in her department for the last several years apart from Burton. She described Burton as encouraging to all her students, but especially the women who are interested in such a technical and male-dominant field.
“I think she’s been instrumental in helping women recognize that they can succeed in this area,” Anderson said.
Anderson described Burton as loving, patient and caring for all her students who struggle with either academics or personal matters.
“If you go and talk to Lara Burton she will listen, and not that she has all the answers but you know that she cares and she sympathizes,” she said.