It’s often said that resilience is built from adversity. That certainly is true of Bree Burris (‘15). Raised by a single mother after the tragic deaths of her sister and father, Burris learned from an early age that hard work is one of the most valuable assets to a good life. 

It can be easy for any professional to allow the fruits of their own merit to define who they are, but Burris has kept this type of existence at bay. 

Her story exemplifies how one can reach a beautiful balance of hard work and professional success while also truly caring and loving people, all while standing up for what one believes is right. 

Tragic losses that built resilience

Burris was born in Southern California, most specifically in Orange county. 

One could say that in many ways she was born out of tragedy. A few years before her birth, her older sister had tragically died of SIDS (infant death syndrome), an event that left an indelible mark on her family. 

Sadly, more pain was to come as years later, as her father passed away by suicide when she was only three or four years old. 

Suddenly, it was  just Burris and her mom. 

“It was just me and her against the world, quite literally,” Burris said. 

Burris and her mom moved around quite a bit until eventually settling in Rancho Cucamonga when Burris was ten years old.

To this day, Burris considers Rancho Cucamonga to be home. 

“It’s really dear to us. We were in a special place that probably, for the first time, provided a lot of peace and stability in what was otherwise a very challenging season for my mom.”

Burris’ mother was a very successful real estate professional. However, with the profession comes a lot of ups and downs depending on the market. 

When the 2008 financial crisis hit, her mother’s professional life was sorely impacted. 

“I’ll never, ever forget the day she came home with a box in her hand,” she said. “She had been laid off. That was a really scary time in our life, especially as a single mom.”

“Against the context of what was a deep hardship in my family, I was very happy and fortunate. I was encouraged by my mom to do it all, and that rang true even at Point Loma.”

Despite this difficult season, Burris and her mom remained very close. The difficulties did not keep her from having a happy and healthy childhood. 

“Against the context of what was a deep hardship in my family, I was very happy and fortunate,” she said. “I was encouraged by my mom to do it all, and that rang true even at Point Loma.”

Burris’ mother encouraged her to get involved in all types of activities. In middle school and high school she participated in dance, cheerleading, and her school’s associated student body. 

When it came time to prepare for life after high school, Burris felt like she needed to succeed, as she would be the first person in her family to go to college.

In light of that pressure, Burris worked hard to do well in school. 

A place to live out her passion

Her journey to PLNU may seem like an odd one given her background. 

Burris says that she did not grow up in a religious household, a context one would think does not lead to attending a Christian university. 

“At home, there was always an understanding of spirituality in the way that my dad and sister were our ‘angels’ and that prayer was possible,” she said. “But that prayer was not directed to God, to Jesus, to any god.”

“There was just something magical about it and it went beyond the superficiality and the obvious beauty. There was something that felt right.”

When it came to choosing PLNU, however, there was another element that caught her attention: the location, San Diego. Burris had always had a positive relationship with the city. Her mom would often take her there to visit famous spots like Legoland and SeaWorld. 

What really drove Burris to apply to PLNU, aside from the lovely location, was that one of her friends from high school had also applied. 

At one point, Burris visited the campus along with her friend and was blown away. 

“There was just something magical about it and it went beyond the superficiality and the obvious beauty,” she said. “There was something that felt right.”

Eventually Burris decided to apply, was accepted, and earned a pretty sizable scholarship that covered many of her expenses. 

She started off at PLNU as a political science major with a minor in Women’s Studies. 

“I declared political science because I thought I would go to law school,” she said. “I grew up in the era of Legally Blonde and Elle Woods, and around media ideals about what it meant to practice law so my eyes were on that prize.”

Burris really poured her heart and soul into the goal of becoming a lawyer. 

She had her eyes set on going into humanitarian advocacy and human rights law. She was a pre-law club member and went to many pre-law events.

 The political science department would often host events with professional attorneys which she would attend. Burris also tried to work at a law firm in town. 

As she dove deep into political science and law, however,  she quickly realized that perhaps becoming a lawyer wasn’t the right fit for her career. 

“We talk a lot at PLNU about vocation and calling and what God has called us to do. What I have found is I can exercise my calling in and out of my workplace.”

Early on in her college journey, she had an interaction with an attorney that changed the course of her professional life.

At one event on campus, an attorney frankly explained to students that the market had become difficult, and even recommended they find a different career path. Although Burris ended up changing her mindset about a law career, she kept the political science major.  

Activities like being an RA, participating in student government, and being part of the Office Activities board helped her explore her passion for causes like feminism and women’s rights. 

“I think my time (at PLNU) from an academic perspective involved learning the rhetoric and the theory behind some of my passions, some of what I knew to be true but didn’t have language for,” she said. 

From poli-sci to communications

Burris’ involvement in the Women’s Studies department resulted in a referral for her first full-time job at the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation (EDC) as a Communications Coordinator after her graduation. 

The transition from political science to communications ended up being a natural one. 

“As a political science student I did a ton of writing,” Burris said. “We were writing long academic papers and I was a strong writer.” 

Her experience working as a waitress at Humphreys helped sharpen her people skills, something that is very important for communication work. 

Bree at her MBA graduation

“I’m quick on my feet,” she said. “I’m good with people. I can talk to anybody, I have thick skin, I can manage money and am committed to the grind. It was those sorts of interpersonal and hard skills that I think maybe convinced them that I could do what was a pretty traditional marketing communication strategy.”

Burris first worked at EDC for nearly four years, receiving a promotion to Communications Manager in that span of time. 

During that time, she enrolled at UC San Diego where she earned her MBA.  

After a brief tenure as Global Marketing Senior Account Manager for a medical devices company she returned to EDC where she now works as Director of Marketing and Communications. 

EDC is a non-profit business that seeks to support economic development for San Diego at large. 

“Corporations, healthcare institutes, universities and other companies invest in EDC under the understanding that a rising tide lifts all boats,” Burris said. “They want to be a part of an ecosystem where talent, investors, other businesses, customers and service providers are benefited.” 

EDC has about 200 investors and members who put in funds to support their work. They have a relatively small staff between 20 and 25 employees, but manage a large budget (about $4 million). 

“Eighty percent of our funding is made up of all those private corporations,” Burris said.

PLNU is an investor in EDC alongside companies like Scripps and Sharp Healthcare. 

The rest of the funding comes from public funds. 

“There’s so much beauty that comes from working in an environment like this (a nonprofit) where you have to be really scrappy but you also have the opportunity to learn so much about so much.”

EDC uses these funds to invest in efforts designed to stimulate San Diego’s economy including business expansion, attraction, retention and more. They also focus on economic inclusion efforts, investing in and assisting companies led by or founded by minority communities in San Diego. 

Burris’ work now involves elements of external affairs, marketing, government relations, public relations and investor relations. 

Bree with colleagues at a San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation Event

She said that when she first started as a director, she often struggled with imposter syndrome.

“I had never led a team and I never led a strategy and a budget,” Burris said. “It was a big and daunting thing. But what better place to do it than in a place where I felt really comfortable and really supported?”

Burris’s days include fostering relationships with investors as well as traditional marketing communications work. 

Burris says that in other larger companies there typically is an employee assigned to each of these individual roles. At EDC, in addition to their areas of expertise, team members also work across other tasks and roles, like social media and marketing. 

“There’s so much beauty that comes from working in an environment like this (a nonprofit) where you have to be really scrappy but you also have the opportunity to learn so much about so much,” she said. 

A calling to people 

One of the important lessons Burris has learned throughout her journey is that hard work pays off and can contribute to a beautiful life. 

“There is beauty in the grind,” she said. “There was a season in my life right out of PLNU where after having worked hard, graduated with honors and done all the resume builder things, I found myself in a cubicle making little money. Yet looking back, there was such beauty in that grind.”

However, Burris also acknowledges that work doesn’t necessarily have to be everything for everyone and that sometimes it’s just a means of sustenance. 

“Frankly, you may never have your dream job because at the end of the day a job is a job,” she said. “We’re going to work to provide for ourselves. Work is about provision. It’s about providing for your family, feeding yourself, keeping a roof over your head. That can be okay, truly.”

Burris understands the importance of calling and vocation but she also understands that a meaningful life can be lived outside of one’s professional life.

Bree at a panel discussion at the California Economic Summit

“We talk a lot at PLNU about vocation and calling and what God has called us to do,” she said. “What I have found is I can exercise my calling in and out of my workplace.”

One of the ways that Burris’ lives out her calling is by working with people and making a positive impact on their lives.  

“I love that my job is people.” she said. “I think my calling is people.”

Through it all Burris feels extremely grateful for her job and the work that she gets to do. 

“I feel so lucky,” she said. “Not many people can say they sat in rooms with executives of the region’s biggest companies and brands. That’s bonkers. And I still, to this day, pinch myself that I don’t feel deserving of it.”

Still connected to PLNU

Burris has continued her connection with PLNU over the years. This past summer she worked as an adjunct professor teaching a semester-long course on Integrated Marketing and Sales Communication. 

Bree and her husband at their wedding officiated by Linda Beail, PhD.

When she got married last May, several of her former professors were present including Linda Beail, PhD., tenured political science professor and the former head of the Women’s Studies Department and Lindsey Lupo, Ph.D., the professor who referred her to her job at EDC. Beail even officiated the wedding. 

Burris says that throughout the years she’s learned about the importance of boundaries both in her personal and professional life. She encourages young professionals to let that discernment guide them and to realize that one’s job does not have to define one’s identity. 

“Above all, my advice is that they’d stay open and true to themselves,” she said. “If it feels wrong, it is. If it feels right, trust it. And again there is so much more outside of your professional life.”

Guimel Sibingo is a freelance writer based in Lisbon, Portugal. She graduated from PLNU in 2014 with degrees in communication and philosophy/theology. She has a Master of Arts in journalism from the University of Missouri.