Success might have been a longshot for alumnus Sam Burris had it not been for his pursuit of higher education and to fulfill a dream. “I was accepted into a lot of colleges, and everyone asked, “Why Coppin? Why go there?” My mom went to Coppin, but she had to drop out. And it was my dream to finish something she started,” said Sam. He received his Bachelor of Science in criminal justice from Coppin in 2009 and is a first-generation college graduate.
Sam had other goals as well. “As a kid, I wanted nothing more than to become a judge. I thought law was going to be my thing. So, while in the criminal justice program, I had an opportunity to work in parole and probation. That’s where I realized that law was more complicated than I expected,” he reflected. “If I worked in the field, the commissioner at that time, shared with me something I never forgot. He told me that certain practices applied to African American men that didn’t apply to others. He said, “Because we need to keep a certain amount of people in jail, African American males victimized.” And I didn’t want to be part of that system,” shared Sam.
Sam’s career took a totally different turn. He has worked for the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, as a job coach for Youth Works program, and landed at the University of Maryland and the University of Maryland Medical System. “I went on to the University of Maryland School of Social Work, where I was a program manager of learning and training for youth.”
He had an opportunity to join the medical center where he started as a community engagement coordinator. “Within over a year, I'm leaving the department to move into a director role, working closely with the Baltimore City delegation and City Council to ensure the needs of our hospitals are met and that someone is advocating on behalf of the medical center,” he said with pride.
“We, often talk about it, in fact, we don't talk enough about how Coppin alumni are doing some impactful work across the country,” he added.
When asked what advice Sam would give current Coppin students, especially those who may have had a similar background as him, he advised, “Seek out every opportunity. Leave no stone unturned, because it's those opportunities where you will find what you like and what you don't like. And don’t be afraid to take a chance.”
“I took a chance and now I’m a resource for the community. Who would have thought that I would have a seat at a table with legislators, presidents and vice presidents of corporations and non-profit groups and be able to share the concerns of the community?” he asked. "It was all because I took a chance.”
Sam ended profoundly, stating, “When I think about Coppin, I think about it being a place where dreams come true.” And they did for Sam.