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Pam Russell
Director of Communications


For Immediate Release
Dec. 12, 2013

State Relations Leaders at Oregon University System, University of Nebraska Recognized for Advocacy Initiatives

SAN FRANCISCO—A chief of staff who worked to pass legislation to cover tuition gaps for former foster youth and a master tactician who instituted a university-wide legislative agenda for his institution's four campuses are recipients of the 2013 Service Awards in State Government Relations.

Bridget Burns, chief of staff with the Oregon University System who currently serves as an American Council on Education Fellow at Arizona State University, is the recipient of the Edwin Crawford Award for Innovation. Ron Withem, senior associate vice president and director of governmental relations with the University of Nebraska, is the recipient of the Marvin D. "Swede" Johnson Achievement Award.

Both will be honored today during an awards luncheon at the 2013 Higher Education Government Relations Conference in San Francisco.

The two awards are given annually for leadership in state relations and institutional advocacy. They are the only national awards in higher education state relations, a field that encompasses advocacy and outreach efforts on behalf of colleges and universities to governors, state legislators and other key policymakers.

The awards are administered by the American Association of Community Colleges, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.

Bridget BurnsBurns served as chief of staff for the Oregon University System where she provided leadership to the government relations division, oversaw state contract lobbyists and coordinated campus government relations staff from all OUS campuses. In her current role as an American Council on Education Fellow, Burns is under the mentorship of Arizona State University President Michael Crow learning about transformational change and university innovation.

Key initiatives during the past three years include:

  • Led successful legislative for passage of Senate Bill 242, a historic package of governance reforms for the university system, and House Bill 3471, a bill that covers the tuition gap for former foster youth.
  • Developed, fundraised and directed the Oregon Social Business Challenge, a business plan competition positioning undergraduate students to pitch solutions for statewide social, economic and environmental problems identified as unsolvable by policy leaders before panels of public officials, business and foundation leadership.

In his letter of recommendation, Rep. Michael E. Dembrow, chair of the Oregon House Committee on Higher Education, noted Burns "crucial work" on governance legislative that could impact higher education institutions, including the Oregon University System.

He wrote: "(Her) goal was not to protect and preserve individual institutions or the system in its current form—but rather to come up with a model that would best serve students."

Ron WithemWithem has served in his current position with the University of Nebraska since 1997. Previously, he served in the Nebraska state legislature for 13 years where he chaired the education committee from 1987 to 1994.

According to University of Nebraska President James Milliken, Withem's service in the legislature as well as his earlier career as a classroom teacher, have contributed to his "deep understanding of education policy."

During his tenure with the University of Nebraska, Withem has built key relationships with state representatives and secured significant state funding increases. Other key initiatives for his institution include:

  • Created the University Ambassador program, an extensive network of grassroots-supporters that includes students, staff, faculty, alumni groups, university retirees and leaders of business, agriculture and education.
  • Offers a seminar each fall for state senators and legislative staff to provide information on the university, its priorities and its challenges, and has organized issue-specific briefings in areas such as water and affordable health care.
  • Led successful efforts to gain passage of two bills that funded $250 million in deferred maintenance initiatives across the four campuses— a bill that directed tobacco settlement funds to the university for biomedical research, and a compromise bill on embryonic stem cell research. Also led efforts that led to passage of a bill to extend in-state tuition to the children of undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria.

The Marvin D. "Swede" Johnson Award, named for the former director of state government relations at the universities of Arizona and New Mexico, comes with a crystal award. The Edwin Crawford Award, named to honor the 40-plus years of state government relations work by Edwin Crawford, a former director of public affairs and state relations at CASE, Auburn University, the University of Virginia, Ohio State University and the University of California System, also comes with a crystal award.

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