His name has become synonymous with the Frisco Education Foundation and Frisco ISD's Mindbender Academy, which focuses on science, technology, engineering, art and math, or STEAM, initiatives.
"My real focus is to do whatever I can to impact a student early enough in their career so that they have a vision of where they want to go," Burns said. "It's easy to say, 'You can be a lawyer; you can be a doctor; you can do anything you want to do,' but if we don't create that bridge from where they are to get them there, it makes no sense."
Peter Burns stands with a NASA space suit that was part of a Mindbender Academy session.[/caption]
Burns' personal journey took him from Jamaica, where he was born and raised, to New York in 1972.
It was then, while working in the New York district attorney's office, that a stranger with a simple statement changed the course of his life. She told him he needed to be in college.
"That was the first time somebody had actually stopped me and said anything to me about college."
He followed her advice and took two computer courses through the local community college, then enrolled in the U.S. Army working in communications. Burns earned his associate degree and bachelor's degree while enlisted. When he retired from the military in 1999, he said the education and skills he had gained in telecommunications made him a sought-after employee. He took a position with Alcatel-Lucent—the company he still works for today—and moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Through Alcatel-Lucent he first got involved with youth and education.
"I was going to a leadership meeting, and they had a monitor playing a video where these students are talking about business concepts, business ideas, the value of education—there were some key words I picked up on right away," he said. "I realized that these were kids. And I kept saying to myself, 'How do they know that at that age?' And it sparked my
He became involved in Alcatel-Lucent's Junior Achievement Program and eventually became a coordinator.
In 2008–09 he participated in the city's leadership academy, Leadership Frisco. Through that program he became familiar with the Frisco Education Foundation and the Mindbender Academy.
Burns is now in his second term as FEF president and is also chairman of the Mindbender Academy committee. Through the FEF he works to help raise scholarship funds, classroom grants and fund special programs, such as Mindbender.
Mindbender is a weeklong academy that brings together middle school students and businesses in the STEAM fields. The Mindbender Academy has 400 slots that fill up within minutes of registration opening, and Burns said he would love to see the program expand to allow for more participation.
"All the things that happened to me in my career were because of education," he said. "That's why it's so important for me to go back and push in the classroom the value of education. That's what makes a difference. Once you learn how to do something, nobody can ever take that away from you."
Burns said the goal of Mindbender is to capture students' imaginations so they can know what jobs and possibilities are available.
"The things you do today, the things you see every day, someone figured out how to do it, and you can, too. Once they get that understanding, we can say to them, 'here's what you need to do in high school and in college to be able to get into the job market to do those things.' You get them excited about it, but then you show them a path to get there."
Burns was honored in January with the Frisco Chamber of Commerce's Citizen of the Year Award. He said he was shocked and surprised.
"All I'm doing is following my heart," he said. "I know I'm being guided to do what I'm doing. I know that without a doubt because every time I've come across a roadblock, that roadblock gets knocked down the minute I come along."
Burns said there are a lot of people who help him accomplish what he does.
"I might be the one up front, but I am not the only one," he said. "Mindbender's success is not because of me—it's because of all the people who stand up and support it."
Burns said for those community members thinking about volunteering, he recommends finding something one likes and just "sticking your feet in the water."
"Just remember: Take stock in what you had to go through to get where you are. Ask yourself how much easier it would have been if you had an opportunity to take a peek into the future."