'Face of Religious Studies' Brings Together a Department

UVA Today is highlighting the winners of the 2011 Leonard W. Sandridge Outstanding Contribution Awards. Today: Doug Burgess in the Department of Religious Studies. To see all of the stories, click here.

June 3, 2011 — For University of Virginia undergraduate students, the face of the Department of Religious Studies in the College of Arts & Sciences is Doug Burgess, the department's undergraduate secretary – and that face is always welcoming, supportive, fun, friendly and caring, according to more than a dozen students and professors who successfully nominated Burgess for a 2011 Leonard W. Sandridge Outstanding Contributor Award.

"Doug embodies a friendly, helpful un-bureaucratic demeanor that makes U.Va. students believe that anything is possible," fourth-year student Susy Schieffelin said.

At the end of her third year, Schieffelin decided to seek a second major in religious studies. Burgess responded with his can-do attitude, welcoming her interest and speedily making all the arrangements that would allow her to complete the major in her final two semesters, including outlining a schedule of needed classes, petitioning for other classes to count toward the major and helping her arrange an independent study.

As a result, "I can truly say that this year has been the highlight of my U.Va. experience," Schieffelin said, "and much of that can be attributed to Doug."

Schieffelin is among 15 religious studies majors who submitted testimonials supporting Burgess. The letters are filled with superlatives and appreciation of how Burgess has taken time, gone the extra mile and cared for students in numerous ways. 

"He is the most helpful and generous University employee that I have met thus far," Rosemary Han said. Other students cited his "sunny personality and superhuman efforts" to serve the students.

Augmenting his personal warmth, Burgess does several things to make the department – and his physical office space – a vibrant, inviting center that fosters relationships and community among students, staff and professors. Frequent food offerings bring the department together, from simple study-break bagels, cakes or cookies, to more elaborate feasts like a "Taco Day" that many students still talk about months after the event.

He's also famous for dispensing department news in witty, entertaining emails, making every one "something I look forward to reading," student Amy Rogers observed.

Burgess has long had a passion for photography [http://www.dougburgess.com/galleries/flash/blossomflash/index.html] and welcomes students to participate in photo projects, yet another way he brings the students together.

Such efforts and the related sense of community within the department led several students to cite a sense of "home within the university," an "anchor" and a sense of belonging to a "large family." 

"To my mind, Doug's most significant service has been to promote community among the department," student Patrick Derdall said.

"Doug has had a profound effect on the quality of life in our department," said Charles Mathewes, an associate professor of religious studies.

People like Burgess help make the U.Va. undergraduate experience feel like a small liberal arts college, student Denny Staples noted.

"In my four years at U.Va., I have not encountered another university employee more deserving of this award or more fully embodying its spirit," student Pratima Gopalakrishnan said.

— By Brevy Cannon

Media Contact

H. Brevy Cannon

Media Relations Associate Office of University Communications