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Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

with Lauren Burns, Assoc. Dean of Marketing and Enrollment Management


Lauren Burns, Wake Forest University School of Professional Services’ Assistant Dean of Marketing and Enrollment Management, lives and works in Charlotte – but she’ll be the first to tell you that she’s a proud fourth-generation ‘New Mexican’.

Born and raised in New Mexico, Burns family’s roots in the state date back over 100 years when her great-great grandmother moved to the U.S. from Mexico. 

Today, Burns’ Hispanic heritage is an important part of her identity personally – and professionally. 

In this Q&A, we talk to Burns about her Hispanic heritage, her deep roots in the Southwestern U.S., and how her family helped to shape her life today. 

WFU SPS: Tell us a little bit about your family, your Hispanic heritage, and growing up in New Mexico. 

Lauren Burns (LB): My mother’s family has been in New Mexico since before New Mexico became a state in 1912. My great-great grandmother moved to what is now the Gallup, New Mexico area as a child from Mexico. They moved so that her father could work in the coal mines and provide for his family. She met my great-great grandfather in school and from there, the next four generations were born in New Mexico. 

My family has always taken so much pride in the history and cultures of New Mexico. I spent the majority of my childhood in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Albuquerque is very diverse with a population that’s a rich and interesting blend of Hispanic, White and Native American – there are 23 Native American tribes in New Mexico alone. 

WFU SPS: What’s really special to you about your Hispanic heritage? 

LB: I treasure our family structure and how much we value respect for and with family. Family always comes first, and you provide and care for each other. 

Growing up, we lived with my grandparents for a few years during a time when my grandpa (“Pa”) was the primary caregiver for his parents, Santiago and Victoria. Being a part of that experience is something I will never forget. I learned so much about our family history, my family’s experience leaving Mexico and starting over, and the beautiful life they built in New Mexico.

Lauren's Great Grandparents
Santiago and Victoria Esparza, in the 1950’s.

WFU SPS: What are some historical or cultural traditions you grew up with that are an important part of your life and your family’s life? 

LB: Most of my family still lives in New Mexico. It’s important to me for my family to visit often to know them and learn more about that part of their heritage. Not to mention – you cannot beat New Mexican food. (I need my fix often!) 

When we moved to North Carolina, I brought several traditions with me, including lining our driveway with luminarias every Christmas Eve to guide friends and family home. Specialty note: you have to do it “old school” with paper bags, sand, and candles – no electric luminarias allowed! 

We also set up an ofrenda – which is Spanish for the word ‘offering’ – during Dia de los Muertos (the “Day of the Dead” which is traditionally November 1) as a special reminder of those who came before us and created opportunities for future generations.

WFU SPS: You’re an only child and the first generation in your family to go to college. Why was that important to you and your family? 

LB: So many of my ancestors sacrificed so that I would have a better life and more opportunities – from my great-great-great grandparents immigrated to the United States from Mexico to provide a better life for their children, to my great-grandfather who left Spain as a child for Mexico, and then coming to New Mexico as a teenager with nothing. 

Needless to say, they were all thrilled when I was accepted to the University of New Mexico – I was the first in my family to go to college. 

WFU SPS: How does your Hispanic heritage impact your work today with Wake Forest University’s School of Professional Studies? 

LB: My grandparents scraped and saved, so that I could be the first to graduate from college. 

They treated it as a responsibility. They also knew it was not only for me, but also for my children – and our family legacy. 

An accessible and quality education is a game changer for generations to come. That’s why education should be available to everyone, especially those who don’t come from a family who has generational education or can afford college, let alone graduate or professional studies. 

That was one of the biggest reasons why I came to work  at Wake Forest University, and the School of Professional Studies, specifically. 

SPS serves a different population of students; and our team and our institution creating accessibility for different adult learners as an important core value. 

That commitment to diversity, inclusion, and access can change the game for learners, their futures, and their families. In turn, it also honors those who came before you. 

I’m proud of my heritage and my family – the past, present, and future.  


Lauren's Grandparents, James and Linda Esparza
Lauren’s Grandparents, James and Linda Esparza on their wedding day in 1958 in Gallup New Mexico.



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