Austin, TEXAS—The Austin Chamber of Commerce has named Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette, president and CEO of Huston-Tillotson University, as the 2021 Austinite of the Year. This award represents the highest honor the Chamber offers on an annual basis.
Under Burnette’s leadership, Huston-Tillotson, a private, Historically Black University in East Austin, grew its endowment by more than 55%. The university also partnered with Apple to create the African American Male Teacher Initiative, which was Burnette’s “passion project," and it collaborated with Tesla on a manufacturing engineering curriculum and a career progression internship for undergraduates, according to the media release. Burnette also completed numerous projects on its deferred maintenance list including the construction of the Sandra Joy Anderson Health and Wellness Center – the first new building on campus since 1974 – and the remodeling of King-Seabrook Chapel.
“I am deeply appreciative and eternally grateful to be the recipient of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce’s Austinite of the Year award,” Burnette said. “To be recognized in this way is a highlight of my life. Upon moving to Austin to serve as the sixth president and CEO of Huston-Tillotson University, I unknowingly embarked upon a wondrous journey that would forever change my life in the most extraordinary, impactful and unimaginable ways. I have experienced firsthand the magic of a city of people collectively leaning in to do the hard work necessary to build a beloved community for all - even when it gets hard and uncomfortable to do so.”
Burnette has also served as the co-chair for the Mayor’s Task Force on Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequities, chair of the Leadership Austin Board, chair of the Central Texas Collective for Racial Equity and treasurer of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas. She serves on numerous boards and committees, including the Greater Austin Area Black Chamber, Colleges and Universities, Austin Community Foundation, DISCO, Texas Methodist Foundation, Frontier Bank, Greater Austin Urban League, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas Advisory Council, Urban Roots Advisory Council, and Waterloo Greenway Board.
The Austinite of the Year is chosen by the Austin Chamber of Commerce board chair in coordination with the president and CEO of the Austin Chamber.
“Colette has transformed Huston-Tillotson," Nikki Graham, the 2021 chairwoman of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, said. "In every room I've been with her, she has encouraged courageous leadership. She's collaborative and wants people to work together, but she's not afraid to push the status quo and make people see things differently. She has played a key role in this important time in our city's history and her background in business and a unique set of skills help her relate to elected officials, businesspeople, and academics alike. She's a unifier and the Austin community should be unified in its recognition that this honor is more than deserved.”
Laura Huffman, president and CEO of the Austin Chamber lauded Burnette’s impact on both her university and the wider Austin community.
“I can think of no one more deserving of this prestigious award. Dr. Burnette’s extraordinary impact on the Austin community has helped make Huston-Tillotson a part of the economic success of our region. Throughout her tenure as President and CEO, she has worked tirelessly to ensure the students, faculty and staff have economic opportunities that help drive our community’s achievements. She has played an integral role in the development of Austin’s higher education system, particularly for Austinites of color, and although she is retiring from this role, we know her energy, intellect and influence will be fundamental to Austin’s growth for years to come.”
Burnette will be honored at the Cheers to the Year event on March 9, 2022.
About the Austinite of the Year award
The Chamber created the special award in 1984 to recognize significant leaders in the local community who were instrumental in making Austin an even better place to live, work, and do business. Recent honorees include Susan Dawson (2020), Jesús Garza (2019), Ray Wilkerson (2018), Bobby Jenkins (2017), Dell Medical School Drs. Ken Shine and Clay Johnston (2016), Mobile Loaves and Fishes CEO, Alan Graham, (2015). Other winners include Dr. Peter Flawn (1984), the 45th Texas Governor Ann Richards (1994), Susan and Michael Dell (1997), Senator Kirk Watson (2000) and Pike Powers (2005).
About the Austin Chamber
The Austin Chamber of Commerce is a nonprofit membership organization that helps people live, work and thrive in Austin. The Chamber invests in a broad range of programs that build, support, and diversify the Austin region’s economy. Its vision is for Austin to have the country’s most prosperous business community. To learn more, visit austinchamber.com.