Religious Studies, Criminal Justice Scholar Excels, Makes Plans To “Change the World”

Annie Burchill has distinguished herself at UNC Charlotte as she completed majors in Religious Studies and Criminal Justice and a minor in Urban Youth and Communities, graduating in May 2021 with ambitious plans to make a difference in the world.

“I recently submitted my intent to enroll at UNC Charlotte for my M.A. in Religious Studies,” Burchill says. “After that… who knows? I want – and have the capability – to obtain my Ph.D., start a nonprofit, be an elected official, a coffee shop owner, a lawyer, or a professor, and so much more, all because my mentors, friends, and UNC Charlotte as a whole have equipped me with everything I need to change the world.”

Throughout her studies, Burchill has received a number of scholarships, notably the Martin Scholarship, the Loy H. Witherspoon Scholarship in Religious Studies, the Richard Underwood Scholarship in Religious Studies, and the Davis Alumni Scholarship. She is a member of the Religious Studies Honors Program and has been involved in a wide array of campus activities, including:

  • Who’s Who? at UNC Charlotte
  • Orientation Counselor #29 (2018-2019)
  • SOAR Student Coordinator (2019-2020)
  • Homecoming aka Niner Spirit Court (2020)
  • ACTIVATE! Social Justice Institute (2020)
  • National Society of Collegiate Scholars (2019-present)
  • National Society for Leadership and Success (2019-present)
  • Theta Alpha Kappa national Religious Studies honor society (2020-present)
  • Omega Theta chapter of Alpha Phi Sigma national Criminal Justice honor society (2019-present)
  • Noble Niner Institute alumna (2019)
  • Amnesty International UNCC (2019-present)
  • Niner Hunger Relief (2019-present)
  • UNC Charlotte Racial Equity Task Force member (2021)
  • Charlotte Racial Justice Consortium inaugural cohort member (2020-present)
  • Presenter at North Carolina Religious Studies Association Conference at Chapel Hill, NC (2019)
  • Performer at NODA Region XI Southern Regional Orientation Workshop [SROW] Conference (2018)
  • Two-time presenter at NODA Region XI Southern Regional Orientation Workshop [SROW] Conference (2019)
  • Committee member for planning first Niner Nation Remembrance event (2019-2020)
  • Undergraduate preceptor for the chair of the Religious Studies Department (2020-present)
  • Assistant in planning Religious Studies Graduate Research Conference (2019)

Burchill shares thoughts about her UNC Charlotte experiences.

Why did you choose UNC Charlotte?

This is my favorite story to tell because it perfectly demonstrates the spirit of Niner Nation. I started off here in the fall of 2017 absolutely despising being a 49er. I came from a difficult past and wanted nothing more than to get far away from North Carolina; what I regularly referred to as my “dream school” was in California, 20 miles north of Anaheim.

Troubles do not end simply because one wishes them to, however, and I was forced to stay local for university. I tied all my resentment about this situation to UNC Charlotte and immediately assumed I would hate my time here. I made a very detailed plan for how I was going to transfer to California my junior year. I showed up to SOAR in a Yale T-shirt and Southeastern University jacket. I arrived on campus ready to leave.

Ever so slowly and against my will, though, I started noticing small things about the campus that I loved: the gazebo in the Botanical Gardens, the small space of grass behind the statue behind Lake Hechenbleikner, the study cubbies on the seventh floor of the library, the benches outside Sanford Hall in the early morning with a hot mug of coffee. I suddenly saw how beautiful I found the academic red brick contrasted with vibrant green and stately silver.

I was not only surviving in this place I thought I did not want to be, but I was thriving, and I had no idea how to stop it. Despite living with severe clinical anxiety and complex PTSD, being selected to be an orientation counselor in 2018 was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Not only did I make lasting connections with incredible faculty and staff, I also completely blossomed as a human being. The version of me who was shy, angry, and sad became bubbly, excited, and for the first time, truly happy. I loved who I was, what I was doing for other people, how I was making a difference, and every aspect of my student life (especially my classes because Religious Studies is definitely top tier).

In the grandest sweep of dramatic irony, the place I thought I would never fit in became the only place I considered home. Every moment since my “oh-no-I-think-I’m-in-love” realization my first year has been spent working to make this university a better place for students current and future. It has easily been the most meaningful and transformative time of my life. I adore UNC Charlotte because it gave me a second chance at who I thought I was going to be, and to me, that is priceless. I will be repaying it for that gift for the rest of my life.

Coming to college slowly stripped the chains from me and enabled me to realize I am allowed to live for myself for the very first time, and that transformed my life irreversibly. My mentors and friends at UNC Charlotte have constantly pushed me to see my worth, my brilliance, and my radiance.

What are your UNC Charlotte highlights or favorite memories?

Being an orientation counselor was absolutely my favorite season of my undergraduate career. The friends I made and experiences I had are unmatched, and I’ll cherish them forever. Along with that, the day I got the email that I was awarded the Martin Scholarship, which covers all of my tuition and most of my other expenses, was perhaps one of the most joy-filled moments of my entire life. I literally jumped up from my desk at work and took a victory lap around our whole building!

All this said, I have loved the smaller moments arguably just as much – laughing with my friends Alex, Zoe, Tony, Adam, Matt, and Shannon in the hallways before religious studies classes, growing close with the baristas at the on-campus Starbucks because I’m a caffeine fiend, and seeing students I mentored do incredible things at the university.

Who are faculty or staff members who had an impact on you – and why?

Oh, I have soooooo many!

  • Dr. Barbara Thiede: She is my greatest, fiercest, and most consistent supporter and one of the major reasons why I stayed at UNC Charlotte at all. For four years, Dr. Thiede has gone out of her way to show me compassion and encouragement, making sure I always felt welcome, valid, and important in every space I was in.
  • Prof. Tanya Wertz-Orbaugh: Wertz-O was the first instructor to see potential in me at this university and never let a single moment pass during her fall 2017 UWRT class without letting me know it. She uplifted me at the most crucial point in my collegiate career, and every time I see her she tells me how proud she is of me.
  • Dr. Alexandra Kaloyanides: Dr. K taught the first religious studies course I took, Orientation to Religion, and she saw something in me that she wanted to nurture and help cultivate. I am very grateful for her influence on me and her willingness to let me explore unorthodox and unusual topics for her class.
  • Dr. Julia Moore: She served as my thesis advisor this school year as I prepared my culminating honors research. Her expertise in my area of interest, the links between the social construction of race, Southern white Christianity, and incarceration, has been endlessly enlightening. She has been a consistent source of brilliance, encouragement, and patience.
  • Dean Christine Reed Davis: Her passion for students and leadership throughout my time as a student leader both within the Dean of Students office and elsewhere has been so formative in the best way. Dean Davis showed me that my dorky love for Niner Nation, our colors, our fight song, and Norm is worth sharing with others.
  • Dr. Joanne Maguire: Though at first I was intimidated by her power, position, and intelligence, working with Dr. Maguire this school year has shown me what a caring, passionate, easy-to-talk-to, and understanding human being and department Chair she is. Like all my other mentors in Religious Studies, she has gone out of her way to let me know my worth and lift me up.
  • Jordan Holliday-Millard: Now the Associate Director of New Student and Family Services, Jordan was who I directly reported to when I was both an Orientation Counselor and a SOAR Student Coordinator. To this day, I consider him one of the biggest influences on my leadership both on campus and just in general, and I am forever appreciative of his presence in my life.
  • Dr. Maisha Cooper: An infectious spirit to be around and one of the best instructors I’ve ever had, Dr. Cooper’s class on Criminal Justice and Social Diversity in spring 2019 was the beginning of the formation of my honors thesis topic.
  • Mrs. Gretchen Bagley: Mrs. Bagley has never let a single statement of self-doubt or self-deprecation leave my lips since I was awarded the Martin Scholarship and joined our small cohort of now 20. She, along with another faculty member who is now retired, Ms. Karen James, always let me know that I belonged in the prestigious group, that I was not chosen by accident but because of who I am and what I am doing and capable of.
  • Dr. Rachael Forrester: I first met Rachael when she presented to my OC team aabout the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and I was enamored with her passion for justice and her indescribably bright energy. I am not ashamed to say she showed me that it was acceptable to be loud and unapologetic about the struggle towards social justice and racial equity.

What advice do you have for the next group of UNC Charlotte students?

In no particular order:

1) Go to your instructors’ office hours. Seriously. Not only will you maybe create a lasting friendship, you might join them for research, presentations, conferences, etc. Your college experience will improve so much by fostering connections with faculty and staff, including the beautifully kind folks who swipe us in at SoVi and Crown and upkeep our facilities.

2) Try something that scares you. Being an OC was the most terrifying thing I could think of doing, and it opened a whole new world of opportunities for me. I would even go a step farther and challenge y’all to do that scary thing in your first year so that you’ll have the rest of your college career to hone the skills and lessons you learned. Plus, you gotta prove to yourself that you can do it right off the bat; it makes everything else seem achievable.

3) Expand your commitment to being a student leader to Charlotte as a whole, not just campus notoriety. Being a recognizable face around campus is great and all, but at the end of the day, Charlotte as a city is hurting deeply: redlining, gentrification, houselessness, ableism, classism, and pervasive racist policies are killing our citizens. If we can’t extend the incredible things Niner Nation is doing to our greater community, then why are we even doing them?

No one is free until we are all free, and we each have a responsibility to one another to forge a world without prejudice, discrimination, and white supremacy. Engage in holistic research; attend lectures and presentations about social issues; pay attention to local news. College is a handful of years; your local environment is much more long-lasting.