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Alumni and Friends Making an Impact

Long-lasting Legacies

After more than 80 combined years of service at the University of Dayton, Albert J. Burky and Deb Bickford retired in 2022. In honor of the many positive impacts they made in the UD community, friends and colleagues established funds in their names to sustain their legacies.

Burky joined the University of Dayton in 1973 as an assistant professor of aquatic biology. During his time with UD, he taught classes, conducted research and published articles. But his influence went well beyond the classroom. He was a role model and mentor to many students, as well as faculty.

Albert was a mentor to undergraduates and graduate students, but really involved in undergraduate mentoring, through his whole career,” said Ryan McEwan, a professor in the Department of Biology. He noted that at times Burky would have as many as 15 undergraduate students involved in research.

His efforts to create hands-on experiments and unique experiences for students — like conducting research in Costa Rica and Hawaii — earned him the College of Arts and Sciences faculty award for Excellence in Teaching in 1993 and the University Award for Faculty Teaching in 1994.

To honor Burky and his nearly 50 years of work and service at UD, McEwan and Casey Hanley ’04, introductory teaching lab coordinator in the Department of Biology, worked together to establish a fund, with Hanley leading a group of alumni in organizing support. Their efforts generated enough donations to create an endowed fund, meaning it is perpetual.

The A.J. Burky Fund for Experiential Learning will allow biology students to gain hands-on experience in research and work with faculty who will guide and mentor them.

“From an equity perspective, it’s really important to have funds for students,” said McEwan. He wants the department to be able to continue providing opportunities for students — regardless of their financial situations — to engage in experiential learning.

Like Burky, Deb Bickford made a lasting impact on the University of Dayton. In 1988, Bickford became an assistant professor in the management department, where she taught strategy and leadership for eight years before becoming assistant provost for learning and pedagogy. She also was instrumental in creating the Ryan C. Harris Learning Teaching Center prior to taking the role of associate provost for academic affairs and learning initiatives.

Throughout her 34 years at UD, Bickford showed how deeply she cared for students, faculty and staff in her efforts to find innovative methods of learning and teaching. In 2018, she was named one of the Women of UD in recognition of her work.

In honor of Bickford’s retirement from UD, a group of her co-workers put in motion efforts to establish the Deb Bickford Faculty and Staff Professional Development Fund, which will provide financial support to faculty and staff members as they engage in professional growth opportunities.

John McCombe, English professor and director of the University Honors Program, was part of the group who established the fund. He hopes the fund grows and promotes learning over decades to come, benefiting a wide range of staff and faculty wanting to serve UD students in more meaningful ways. “I also hope that the fund supports staff and faculty new to campus and experienced colleagues ready to assume new leadership roles,” said McCombe.

Most of the gifts toward Bickford’s fund were made during One Day, One Dayton. And thanks to the generosity of Bickford’s friend and former colleague, Jim Van Vleck, the total amount collected toward the fund was pushed high enough to become endowed. “His generous gift is a testament to his respect for Deb, and Deb’s contribution to UD,” said McCombe.

Both funds were kept a secret until their retirement celebrations in May, and Burky and Bickford were surprised and speechless when they heard about the funds. Kathy Burky said it was the first time she'd seen Albert speechless in more than 50 years of marriage.

Burky and Bickford both exemplify servant leadership, and their regular presence on campus will be missed. With these funds established in their names, their legacies and love of UD will carry on.

“I hope 20 years from now,” said McEwan, “when every year a student gets this award, they have some reflection on Burky and what he meant to the university.”

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