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B-CU Alumna Takes Success on the Road to Graduate School at Vanderbilt

Camille Burge, Alumni

When alumna Camille Burge (’08) set off to attend Vanderbilt University on a full scholarship last fall, she never imagined the challenges she would face and how her education at Bethune-Cookman University would help her succeed. 
Burge is studying in the Political Science Masters/Ph.D. program on the Vanderbilt campus in Nashville, with her sights set on graduating in 2013.
“I have to keep it in perspective by breaking it down,” Burge laughs. “It’s a five-year program, but in just nine semesters I’ll have my Ph.D.!”
Laughing comes easily now that her first semester is over, but it took the generally upbeat Burge some time to find humor amongst the difficulties she was facing at her new school.
Transitioning from undergraduate to graduate work was the greatest feat for her. Altering her mindset from what she calls being a “consumer of knowledge” as an undergrad to a “producer of knowledge” as a graduate student was a big step. In her graduate school classrooms she is tasked with analyzing published work and theories and developing her own ideas about them, a step beyond what she had to do to earn her bachelor’s degree.
And the amount of coursework? She had no idea.
“I thought Dr. Smart gave us a lot of work, with homework every night from him,” Burge said. “But now, I think, ‘A whole book in by next week?! But that’s 300 pages!’ ”
It is precisely the workload her B-CU political science advisor Smart Uhakheme, Ph.D. (known on campus as “Dr. Smart”) gave Burge that prepared her for the level of responsibility she now has in each of her classes. Being in a small program with just 38 students with no more than 10 people to a class, she said she is highly accountable for completing her assignments.
She obviously stayed on task because Burge finished her semester with an impressive 3.53 grade point average.
“I’ve found Vanderbilt faculty to be a lot like those at Cookman,” she said. “They really want you to do well here and they really care about you, just like they did at Cookman.”
Looking back, it’s the communal atmosphere at B-CU Burge misses most.
“Cookman just has a whole familial vibe going on campus, and you don’t really realize how much you appreciate that until you don’t have it,” she said. “Just the simple act of acknowledging someone else is walking past you on the sidewalk – I miss that the most.”
She also appreciates the professionalism she learned on campus. When she first started going to classes at Vanderbilt last fall in her business attire, other students gave her a second look. Because of the doubt those looks instilled in her, for a short while she quit wearing professional clothing to feel more comfortable. With a new sense of confidence, though, going into her second semester she is back to wearing those button-down shirts and slacks to class, in spite of the sideways glances.
“I need to be comfortable in who I am; I’ve done well to get where I am, and have learned not to conform to other people’s lifestyle,” she said. “I told myself, ‘You’re supposed to be here, do what you’ve been doing to get you here’ because that was what worked for me at Cookman.”

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Liz Poston
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About Bethune Cookman University:

Founded in 1904 by Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) today sustains her legacy of faith, scholarship and service through its relationship with the United Methodist Church and its commitment to academic excellence and civic engagement.  B-CU offers 38 degrees on its main campus and online college. Located in Daytona Beach, B-CU is one of three private, historically black colleges in the state of Florida. The institution boasts a diverse and international faculty and student body of nearly 4,000.  For more information, visit

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