When Tanya Burns ’97 landed a dream job as a senior-level human resources partner at Intel, she paused to reflect on her life journey and career.
“I’d worked so hard and overcome so many obstacles to get to that point,” she said. “It was a struggle. There were so many times I didn’t know how I was going to make it.”
Burns had a rocky childhood. She grew up in Roanoke, raised by a single mother who dropped out of high school and worked long hours in a factory to make ends meet.
“It was tough,” said Burns. “I knew that wasn’t the life I wanted to live.”
Burns graduated high school in 1984 and enrolled at James Madison University. But as a first-generation college student in an era where related support services were essentially nonexistent, she felt lost among the 10,000-plus students of the majority-white institution.
“I came from a small, rural high school, so it was overwhelming for me to be thrown into that environment without any real understanding of what it would be like,” said Burns. There was the sprawling campus, survey courses with hundreds of students, educational and knowledge gaps, money problems, and more. She felt confused about “not only what I was doing there, but what I was going to be able to do with my life in general.”