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Former auto worker shifts to academics

A decision to leave the auto industry has Sean Burke on the road to receiving a master’s degree in May.

Burke had been an auto worker for 14 years for New Process Gear, a division of Chrysler in Syracuse, when employees were offered a buyout package. The choice was not easy for Burke, who had a 30-year pension to consider.

“I think that deep down inside, I’ve always wanted to pursue an advanced degree, so I saw this as an opportunity,” said the 38-year-old from Liverpool, N.Y. “It was difficult to make that decision because I knew in 16 years I’d be able to retire.”

After making the leap of faith, Burke considered law school and PhD programs. But he found himself drawn to his “first choice” — Binghamton University. Burke enrolled in the fall of 2007 and joined the Master of Public Administration program.

“In my 14 years in the factories, it was about meeting schedules and about market share,” he said. “I didn’t share their sense of urgency. I had a friend who was a social worker and when I heard her stories, it seemed like it was much more meaningful. Her stress carried more weight than mine did. It meant something to me.”

Burke spent this past summer working for Huntington Family Centers in Syracuse, a non-profit agency that offers social services such as a food pantry and day care to residents of the west side of the city. He still returns to Syracuse each weekend to volunteer as a big brother for Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Allison Alden, assistant professor in public administration, has been impressed by what Burke has brought to the program.

“He’s been a real asset in class and he has grown, as well” she said. “He’s obviously already a competent professional. I think he’ll do very well.”

The experience at Huntington and his time at the University have made Burke realize that his future is in non-profit administration. He hopes to do grant writing and contracting for non-profit agencies.

“I like the idea of working for a larger social good,” he said. “At the end of  the day, I like to know that the work I’ve put in is helping to alleviate some type of social problem.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08