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News for faculty and staff

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Week of November 1, 2010

Staff Spotlight

Curiosity inspires Burman at work, in world

When Joe Burman attended University of Maryland, Baltimore County, he knew he wanted to major in religious studies, but no program existed. So Burman went ahead and crafted his own major.

“Looking at the course guide, I didn’t really see … what I was going to do,” Burman says. “I’ve always been fascinated by mythology and world religions.”

Photo by Scott Soderberg, U-M Photo Services.

It’s this sense of curiosity and thirst for knowledge that also helps him in his job as director of prospect identification and strategies for LSA’s Department of Development, Marketing & Communications, a position in which he researches prospective donors for the department.

“I’ve always been a very curious person,” Burman says, “and I have a job that lets me be curious, so it’s a perfect match.”

Spirituality plays a large role in Burman’s life. Following his undergraduate degree in religious studies, he spent nine years in graduate school in the Scientific Study of Religion program at Temple University in Philadelphia.

Burman says he enjoys finding meaning in something much bigger than himself, both at church and in personal reflection. He says that he sees spirituality as not only a belief system but also as “a total aesthetic experience in the pursuit of the beautiful — art, music, poetry, ritual and architecture.”

He worships at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Detroit with three friends who have become like a family for him. Burman was drawn to St. John’s by the invitation of these friends, and by the renowned music department of trained musicians who perform during services.

Burman enjoys attending musical performances and listening to classical music, and collects art ranging from ceramics to fountain pens.

Burman has worked at U-M for more than eight years, longer than any of the five other universities he worked for during his career in prospect identification and strategies. His principal job is to research prospective donors to LSA, compiling and analyzing information about their assets and interests. This information aids gift officers, who contact donors directly, in making a personal connection. The contributions of donors support endeavors like scholarships to ensure that students can afford to complete their education with U-M, especially important following the economic downturn, he says.

The staff members of LSA’s Development department attend annual planning and strategy meetings that include a special time to recognize staffers. While attending one such meeting in January 2009 Burman was recognized in the form of a mock newspaper, the “Joe Burman Times,” designed and written by his coworkers.

Burman’s contributions were honored in articles and photographs. His coworkers also honored his quirky and inviting personality by comparing his strong investigative skills to those of journalist Dominick Dunne, his wit to that of Groucho Marx and his “dark intensity” to that of artist and author Edward Gorey.

“He’s sort of my personal hero, if I have one,” Burman says of Gorey. “And, it is no coincidence that he was a great cat fancier.”

Burman has owned cats for more than 30 years, and regularly donates to animal shelters. By interacting with his cat, he says he enjoys “connecting with a world other than the human one — often more pleasant than engaging with the human realm.”


The weekly Spotlight features staff members at the university. To nominate a candidate, please contact the Record staff at urecord@umich.edu.

 

STAFF SPOTLIGHT

Joe Burman, director of prospect identification and strategies for LSA’s Department of Development, Marketing & Communications, on working at U-M: “I’ve always been a very curious person and I have a job that lets me be curious, so it’s a perfect match.”

EVENTS

Lebanese singing star Assi El Helani, 8-11 p.m. Nov. 6, Hill Auditorium.

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