A Panther family

“Going off to college” often means leaving behind the only family you’ve ever known for a family of a different sort.

But for William Burt, Jr., a junior communication major, his biological family has never been far from his Panther family, whether on campus at UNI or at home in Waterloo.

His father, William Burt, Sr., now holds a bachelor’s degree in leisure, youth and human services from UNI and is close to completing his research paper to earn a master’s degree. Both degrees have come after four prison stints scattered over a 20-year period. Burt, Sr. set out to turn his life around, starting with an associate’s degree from Hawkeye Community College.

William Burt Jr and family

The Burts and the Campbells have certainly given new meaning to what it means to be a “Panther family.”

That opened the door to UNI, and offered him a chance he had never been given before.

“Up until Hawkeye, I had never accomplished anything,” said Burt, Sr. “My associate’s degree, I gave that to my mom. That was for her. Everything else was for me. Walking across the stage at UNI was my first real accomplishment, to me.

“UNI has been nothing but a blessing to me. I love everyone I’ve [met], all of the faculty.”

Burt, Sr. works full-time at Gray’s Barber Shop in Waterloo, and recently opened a mini barbershop on the campus of Wartburg College in Waverly.

For William, coming to UNI was less about following in his father’s footsteps, and more about finding an affordable education. Having been accepted to Iowa State University, Wartburg College and UNI, William had his choice between the three of them. He ultimately settled on UNI due to the number of scholarships he would receive.

Now, he feels more confident than ever that he made the right choice.

“I feel like I’ve gotten everything that I was looking for,” William said. “I feel like I’m getting everything that I need. I don’t always like what I have to do in my classes, but I think it is necessary for me to grow and be better.”

He also had a hand in convincing his sister, Syntesha Burt, and brother, Deveione Campbell, to become members of the Panther family.

Syntesha, a junior social work major, wasn’t even considering UNI until William encouraged her to think about it. She applied and was accepted, and was even offered a scholarship, which proved enough for her to choose UNI after receiving her associate’s degree from Hawkeye.

She is also a single mother, with a son and a daughter at home, so financial aid from UNI has allowed her to better provide for her family while studying. And as someone who once never imagined she’d attend college, Syntesha is seizing the opportunity to better herself.

“I feel like I’m setting examples for my kids,” Syntesha said. “That’s what they need. I’m still young, and they’re young. I feel like they will know a Syntesha that I didn’t even know.”

Deveione, a freshman who lives with William and also works at Allen Hospital in Waterloo, is undecided on what career path he wants to pursue. But he chose UNI because it was affordable, and because it was close but still far enough from home.

William, Syntesha and Deveione share a mother, Evinesha Campbell, who has also attended UNI, but took the year off from school. William and Syntesha’s paternal grandmother, Angela Burt, earned both her her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UNI.

The Burts and the Campbells have certainly given new meaning to what it means to be a “Panther family,” and their futures are all brighter for it.