By Caroline Hausman
College can be a very unusual time for many students.
It’s often the first time to live away from family. It can be their first time living with a roommate, whom they likely didn’t know before move-in day. It’s also generally the first time students have the opportunity to leave the old version of themselves behind and become the person they desire to be.
These opportunities for growth and development are wonderful, but often are intimidating at the same time. How are you to grow when the only support system you’ve known is hours away and in a different state?
For many students across the Ole Miss campus, this is where Lou Burney comes into play.
Burney is an Accounting 201 & 202 professor, but to the students who have the opportunity to sit in her classroom three days a week, she is substantially more.
“She loves each student as if they were her own,” Madison Demus said. “Like a mother, she supports you to the very end, but at the same time isn’t afraid to call you out when she knows you are not living up to your potential.”
Demus, a Boulder, Colorado native and accounting major, was a student in Burney’s class during her freshman year in 2019 and credits her for her smooth transition into college.
“As a freshman, I didn’t know anyone and I felt so welcomed walking into her classroom each day. She plays an active role in each of her students’ lives and makes a conscious effort to know each of her 500 students on a personal level,” Demus said.
Prior to working for the university, Burney worked as an accountant for Arthur Andersen and KPMG and later was employed by Millsaps College for 28 years. There she was hired as a controller and eventually rose to the top as their chief financial officer.
In 2014, Burney found her way back to her roots and today teaches in the same building she walked the halls of as an Ole Miss student 42 years ago.
Lindsay Kahn, another student of Burney’s, also sat in her classroom during the fall of 2019 and in the spring of 2020. Kahn, a current senior accounting major, commended Burney’s teaching skills in the classroom and knows she wouldn’t be where she is today without her.
“She is the superior in the classroom, yet she speaks to her students as equals,” Kahn said.
Burney takes what she describes as “commercial breaks” in the classroom when she can see her students are getting confused or stressed with the quantity of information being taught to them. In those breaks, she tells stories and gives advice about growing up and becoming an adult.
“Mrs. Burney’s lessons aren’t strictly academic, which makes them the most valuable,” Kahn said. “She speaks on the realities of the professional world we will be joining in a few short years. She speaks on the joys of getting hired and the pain and frustration of realizing a job you desired so badly isn’t what you expected it to be.”
Kahn and Demus both were students when COVID-19 shut down “on campus” classes and activities and both returned to their home states to finish the last eight weeks of their spring semester.
“Mrs. Burney was the most accommodating teacher during that crazy time,” Demus said. “She went out of her way to make sure we were all safe. She cared and put in an immense amount of work to make our learning as similar as possible to the way it was before.”
Burney recorded herself lecturing live to an empty room, a room which sat full of students just weeks before, for the remainder of the semester.
The lessons she teaches will continue to leave a lasting impact, beyond her students’ years at Ole Miss. She teaches beyond the written word and cares beyond the negotiations of her contract. Burney fosters pride within her students for their alma mater, encouraging them to represent the Ole Miss community well throughout all periods of life.
She does not teach to ensure her students pass a test; she teaches her students to be successful in life.