Giving Back: Alumna's 'Secret Sauce' of Life
Overcoming obstacles and achieving personal and professional "firsts" have been defining characteristics for Jane Offutt Burns (BSC '61, MBA '68).
"By age 6, I knew college was critical and expensive," Jane recalls. Growing up on a farm in Taylorsville, Kentucky, where her parents struggled financially to earn college degrees, Jane was motivated to take a different path. "I was saving all my birthday money, along with bonds from a generous uncle." Despite her thriftiness, her savings were insufficient "until UofL offered me a scholarship and everything changed."
After graduating—and passing her CPA exam on the first attempt—UofL was there again, with the opportunity to earn an MBA through night classes while she worked full time in a local accounting firm. "Without UofL," she says, "most of my career wouldn't have happened."
Contending throughout her life with a learning disability, which was undiagnosed until six years ago, Jane often felt inadequate. However, as she found her niche in English and math, and focused on what she could do well, rather than on what she couldn't do, she realized, "Everyone has a disability in some area but excels in other areas. For me, tax was where I could excel. It was an always-changing mystery—and I love solving mysteries and uncovering facts, and I need change."
For the first 25 years of Jane's career, as she "worked like a demon" at CPA firms and was active in professional associations—generally as the only woman in both—she also became the first female to earn a Ph.D. in business at Penn State. A turning point in her career came when the Accounting Chairman of Eastern Kentucky heard her speak at a conference. "At his encouragement, I applied and landed the job; it turned out that teaching was perfect for me."
Amid the rewarding opportunities to mentor and encourage students, Jane also recognized that serving as a professor required the highest integrity and ethical standards, including "the willingness to tell students when I've made a mistake."
Recognized for her professional accomplishments by both her alma maters—as an Alumni Fellow in UofL's College of Business and with the Accounting Department Distinguished Alumni Award in Penn State's Smeal College of Business—Jane is grateful for all that she has received. When her husband, Hank, died, she moved to her "dream position," an endowed professorship at Texas Tech University.
Since then, she has established an endowed scholarship fund for graduate students in accounting at UofL and designated UofL as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy to be added to the endowed fund. "Giving back is part of the secret sauce for life," she notes, "and an endowed scholarship is a way to live forever." Now retired, Jane lives in Lubbock, Texas, where she continues a 30-year tradition of hosting an annual Derby party.
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