Burns' Background Helps Her Build Bonds as Sandburg Dean of Career & Technical Education

  Aaron Frey
  Monday, October 14, 2019 3:10 PM
  Campus News

Galesburg, IL

She may not have to wear steel-toed boots or safety glasses in her office at Carl Sandburg College, but it’s easy for Ellen Burns to connect with students training for jobs where those are required.

“When I’m here and I get to interact with the students, especially in the shop setting, that’s where I feel most comfortable,” said Burns, Sandburg’s new dean of career and technical education. “Getting to know them, know their goals and just connect on a one-on-one basis.”

That bond comes naturally to Burns because she’s been in those settings before.

Before coming to Sandburg in August, Burns worked for almost 11 years at BNSF Railway, first as a control operator dispatching train traffic before working in a few other union positions and eventually becoming a company officer. She spent most of the last seven years in the engineering department, where she was involved in the hiring and training of new employees in that area.

“Of all the experiences I had at BNSF, that was the most rewarding,” Burns said. “Being able to bring someone on board that was excited about their career and help see them flourish as they advance throughout their career. When this job came open, I thought here’s a great opportunity to do that and impact my community as well.”

In her role as dean of career and technical education, Burns works with area industry partners to help develop and maintain programs to fit their needs, and she oversees the execution of them in the classroom. Programs in Sandburg’s CTE department range from blue-collar (such as welding, CNC operator/programmer and automotive technology) to business settings (such as administrative office professional and information & communication technology).

“It’s all across the board,” Burns said. “We’re here to fit the needs of the local economy and make sure that we have students prepared for the workforce,” Burns said. “Our students are going to be the lifeblood of the community. They’re learning the skills they need to start a career.”

Sandburg’s CTE department has unveiled a new program this year and re-established another. The College is offering a new cybersecurity specialist certificate as it meets the ever-changing needs of the technological environment. It’s also revived its agriculture program, which was a selling point for Burns, who grew up on a farm near the Warren County-Mercer County border, graduated from Aledo High School and earned her bachelor’s in agricultural and environmental communications and education from the University of Illinois.

Sandburg has an agreement in place so that students can transfer into U of I’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES). Additionally, students at area high schools that offer Sandburg’s agriculture classes as dual credit can earn an ag certificate.

“We have a huge need for agricultural technicians and other folks in the industry here locally,” Burns said, “so I’m excited to offer that and work with our area partners.”

It’s all part of finding ways to prepare students to be part of the workforce once they graduate.

“I think it’s important to have someone in a role like mine to help students know what to expect,” Burns said. “Recently I was visiting with an industry partner and we were talking about the onboarding process, the interview process, the skills gap and what our students need to know before they embark on their first interview or their first career experience. That’s where I can take some of my industry experience and some of my hiring experience to put that into practice with students and help them navigate their way.”


Ellen Burns, dean of career and technical education at Carl Sandburg College, talks with Sandburg welding instructor Ian Milligan during one of Milligan’s evening classes. Burns began her position at Sandburg in August after spending nearly 11 years with BNSF Railway.

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Aaron Frey