Nena Burgess ’22, this year’s winner of the Franko-Maisel Prize for Public Policy awarded by the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs, plans to use her prize money to move to Washington, D.C., so she can begin working on behalf of underrepresented communities.
Burgess, a government and global studies double major, intends to work for a law firm or nonprofit organization that specializes in immigration, civil rights, or housing. After gaining real-world experience, she is going to apply to law school with a goal of becoming a litigation attorney or leader of a legal-aid organization.
“I have learned that policy change and legal aid go hand-in-hand,” she said. “It is one thing to fight for the equitable enforcement of laws, but if the laws themselves are not equitable, then we have to change them.”
The Franko-Maisel Prize recognizes an outstanding senior who intends to pursue a policy-related career. The cash prize is made possible by longtime faculty members Patrice Franko, the Grossman Professor of Economics and Global Studies, and Sandy Maisel, the Goldfarb Family Distinguished Professor of American Government, Emeritus.
At Colby, Burgess served as a class senator for the Class of 2022 in the Student Government Association and as a communications chair for the Students Organized for Black and Latinx Unity (SOBLU). Through the Goldfarb Center, she led discussions on race and identity with diplomat and domestic-policy expert Susan Rice and another on free speech and campus protest rights with American Civil Liberties Union attorney Emerson Sykes.
Burgess was a Posse Scholar, a student research fellow for Montgoris Assistant Professor of Government Carrie LeVan, and a community liaison in the Office of Civic Engagement. She also received two Davis Grants for Global Experiences through DavisConnects and a Sandy Maisel Student Internship Grant.
Burgess said the opportunity to host the public talk with Rice “was a critical moment in my Colby experience and a huge reason I even applied for this award. It allowed me to talk with someone who for the most part looks like me about the possibility of actually making changes through policy and the power of my identity in that field. It was a key moment, and I will always remember it.”
Lindsay Mayka, associate professor of government, met Burgess during a government course when Burgess was a sophomore. “She has impressed me with her creative thinking, leadership, and deep commitment to social justice. She is exactly the kind of student I love teaching at Colby,” Mayka said. “The Franko-Maisel Prize will give Nena an amazing opportunity to launch her career in Washington, D.C., and I cannot wait to see what she does next.”
During her time at Colby, Burgess completed internships at the Pro Bono Institute in Washington, D.C., and with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. Those internships helped her connect policy reform and legal-aid advocacy to drug policies, criminal justice, and related issues. Her work at the Pro Bono Institute helped her realize the acute need for access to legal aid on a national scale, and the ACLU experience brought that need into focus at the community level.
“When there are institutional gaps such as the need for legal aid, the people who suffer the most are underrepresented communities—Black and brown communities primarily,” Burgess said. “There are so many avenues I could pursue, but after working at the ACLU I was pretty solidified in my commitment to prioritize advocating for underrepresented communities.”
Burgess returned to her home in Houston, Texas, after graduating in the spring. Soon, she will make the trip back to the East Coast and settle into a new career in Washington. She thanked Colby for its continued support of her education and dreams. “I feel that this award is an extension of the many other resources that have allowed me to succeed at Colby, and now beyond Colby,” she said.
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