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Degrees of Success: Patti (Kramer) Burson '45


Patti (Kramer) Burson '45 got her feet wet in the social sciences working summers during college at a psychiatric hospital in West Hartford, Conn., and for the City of New York's welfare department. She was successful in business as a summer camp director, pre-school owner, and owner/tour director of Patti's Travel in Manhattan. During the Vietnam War she taught troubled and economicallychallenged 6th-grade students in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

And since 1990, she has worked as a researcher for pharmaceutical clinical trials in California, where she coordinates outpatient studies in anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Many of her participants reside in homeless shelters. Because of this work, Burson has developed a passion for helping the homeless, and she finds herself advocating on their behalf. She also helps them solve and cope with challenges, like finding a job and a place to live. "It's exciting when an otherwise unavailable treatment to those in shelters helps to improve lives," she says proudly.

Yet, with all of her accomplishments, Burson still felt like something was missing.

In 2010 at the age of 86, she returned to college to pursue a master's degree. It was that nagging, unfilled desire that prevented her from never giving up. "If you want to do something badly enough, you just do it," the energetic 89-year-old says.

Choosing to study marriage and family therapy, Burson earned her degree from Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Ariz. "I hope to encourage people of any age to pursue their long-held aspirations," she says.

Although age is just a number for Burson, she wondered if she would be accepted at Grand Canyon and whether she could get a student loan. She had to learn computers, embrace the Internet and juggle her full-time job with long study sessions. "I type with one finger," she says. "I didn't think of that when I enrolled. I wrote all my papers using speech recognition software. You talk, and it types. It even overcame my New York accent," she chuckles. "It was the only way I could go to school."

Burson seems to find a way to do just about everything. She goes to the gym three times a week for aerobics and weight lifting. She plays golf, bikes and boogie boards in the Pacific Ocean. And she's in remission for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. A recent back injury almost prevented her from walking across the stage to receive her diploma—almost.

Now, 68 years after she graduated from Albright, Burson plans to build her own private counseling practice, where she will work with baby boomers on issues related to retirement. According to Burson, many boomers are happy, but many retire too early, often losing their purpose. "I want to help them out of their lethargy," she says. "You have to wake up in the morning and have a purpose that gives you excitement."

Burson has a purpose and another goal.

"I told myself that I could not leave this world until I get my master's degree," Burson says. "Now, I cannot leave until I develop my practice."

–Linda (Mecca) Green '08

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