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Alumni Spotlight: Nolie Burns

For our 35th anniversary, we’ll be sharing the stories of 35 alumni showcasing the leaders they are today and how 21st Century Leaders inspired and impacted their journey. Alumni will represent the 3.5 decades since our founding in 1989 – the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, and 2020s. Take a read and be inspired!

35th Anniversary Alumni Spotlight


2000’s Decade
: Nolie Burns
H.S. Grad Year: Class of 2004
High School: Screven County High School
College: University of West Georgia
Current Role: Counselor, Augusta University

How has your career unfolded and how did participating in 21CL help prepare you for your next steps going to college, taking on a new leadership role in community/college and after?

I vividly remember while in high school being afforded the opportunity to attend an annual leadership conference in January 2004 which launched me into my undergraduate career as I had the opportunity to meet the current president of University of West Georgia, Dr. Beheruz Sethna. Meeting him in such a warm environment was a unique experience that impacted me deeply and influenced me to attend the same university that fall! I went on to graduate from UWG in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science in Criminology and a minor in Sociology. Attending 21CL’s leadership conferences exposed me to universities, people, careers, and experiences that I am not sure I would have received in my hometown of Sylvania, GA. Upon graduation from UWG I began my work in the human services field where I worked for DFCS and DJJ, providing services to those in unfortunate circumstances. Since the eighth grade, I knew I wanted to help people and serve others in some capacity, but I was not sure how. I can recall being in summer camp with 21CL and taking a career assessment, which exposed me to the possibility of becoming a Forensic Psychologist. So, when time came for me to transition from Department of Juvenile Justice as a probation officer, I knew I wanted to return to school to become a counselor to help people process their unfortunate life events, rather than using a punitive approach for a much deeper problem. I returned to graduate school at Georgia Southern University and received a Master of Education in Counselor Education with a concentration in clinical mental health counseling. Currently, I work in collegiate mental health for a university in the state of Georgia where I get to work with tomorrow’s leaders on maintaining positive mental health to prepare them for doing impactful work in their respective programs and professions. 21CL not only played an integral role in me becoming a mental health professional, but the organization piqued my interest in the etiquette industry by providing etiquette training every summer. In 2022, I became a Certified Etiquette Consultant and I provide workshops on the topics of dining etiquette, walking/talking gracefully, social etiquette, and beauty and grooming.

What’s your memorable or ‘aha’ moment during your time at 21CL? (Particular program, meeting a professional and diverse peer, speaking in public for the first time, etc.)

It is difficult to select just one memorable moment during my time with 21CL as the entire experience helped me to look at the world differently. The organization really did a good job of exposing me to diverse peers from all over the nation and from different backgrounds/cultures. It was always fun to learn about where others came from, the stories they possessed, and the experiences they had that was different from mine.

Did 21CL assist you in developing a leadership style that makes you an effective leader? If so, how? 

I can remember being a part of the debates at 21CL leadership summits and feeling so uncomfortable because I was quiet and did not want to engage in an organized argument; however, those experiences helped me to understand that everyone has a place on the team and as long as you lead in your respective role you can help the team be effective and successful. Today, I am much like I was in high school, quiet, but insightful when I speak up. I do not hold a leadership role at the university I work for, but I still lead through my actions, character, work ethic, and by sharing my thoughts/opinions respectfully. I do think my experiences at 21CL helped me to understand how I lead and that my unique leadership style is valuable and valid even though it may look different.

Why do you believe programs like 21CL are important? And what advice would you give to a current or future student?

Programs like 21CL are important because they expose students to diverse experiences, people, institutions, and perspectives that they may not receive within their own community. These programs promote post-secondary readiness while creating well-rounded individuals who can take on the world with just a little more confidence than the student who did not get the same exposure. I will forever esteem these types of programs because they truly helped make me who I am as a professional and individual.

To the current 21CL student, maximize your experiences in this organization by attending events and utilizing the resources provided to you. Ask as many questions as you can of both your peers and mentors. Lastly, understand that you are a leader in your own way and it does not have to look like someone else’s leadership style.

To the future 21CL student, I am excited for you to join this impactful organization, the future version of yourself will be appreciative! Join for the purpose of growing and understanding your identity as a 21st-century leader.

Share the inspiration!