Professional News

Johnson awarded Emmett P. 'Buzz' Burnam Inclusive Excellence and Expansion Impact Award

(From left to right) UK Vice President for Institutional Diversity Katrice A. Albert, Cassandra Jean Johnson and Emmett “Buzz” Burnam. BWPhoto.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 23, 2024) — The University of Kentucky Office for Institutional Diversity has awarded Cassandra Jean Johnson the Emmett P. "Buzz" Burnam Inclusive Excellence and Expansion Impact Award.

This award is given to someone who emulates the spirit of Emmett P. "Buzz" Burnam. Burnam has been — and continues to be — an icon of inclusive excellence and leadership for the University of Kentucky. For more than four decades, he served UK as a champion for all students. As an architect for diversity recruitment and retention, he left an indelible mark that allows us to continue our mission of advancing Kentucky through nurturing and cultivating our diverse talent at UK.

Johnson, a Lexington native, was influenced by Burnam’s guidance during her high school years, which led her to choose UK over her initial preferences. This pivotal decision set the course for her successful academic and professional journey. 

Johnson graduated with her undergraduate and master’s degrees in social work from UK. Throughout her time there, she actively engaged in student organizations and support services, fostering her commitment to helping others succeed. 

For four years Johnson served as a faculty member at Berea College, where she excelled in student recruitment and support initiatives. In 2001, she transitioned to her current role as program counselor/advisor at Student Support Services at UK, under the mentorship of Lydia Wims. In this capacity, she has dedicated herself to assisting first-generation, low-income, disabled, nontraditional and transfer students, providing guidance in academic, career and personal matters. She has also been instrumental in coordinating peer mentoring programs and educational enrichment initiatives. 

Beyond her professional duties, Johnson is an active member of organizations such as the Kentucky Association of Educational Opportunity and Program Personnel (KAEOPP) and the Southeastern Association of Educational Opportunity and Program Personnel (SAEOPP), advocating for underrepresented college students. She is an active member at Living Waters Grace Temple. 

With a passion for empowering young people and dismantling societal barriers, she views her work as a calling rather than merely a job. Her mission is to inspire resilience, perseverance and a thirst for knowledge in every student she encounters. 

Johnson was recognized during the Emmett P. “Buzz” Burnam Inclusive Excellence and Expansion Impact Award Gala on Friday, April 12 during this year’s Black Alumni Reunion. 

The University of Kentucky is acknowledging a key and pivotal anniversary of our institution. In 1949 — 75 years ago — Lyman T. Johnsondismantled racial segregation at the University of Kentucky by becoming the first Black American to attend classes at UK.  Throughout 2024 — and every day — we ask you to join us in remembering and celebrating Johnson’s legacy as a lifelong and fierce advocate for equality who experienced firsthand the power of education. Thanks to his courage and tenacity, Lyman T. Johnson paved the way for future generations to continue building upon that legacy. 

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.