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Huston-Tillotson University president Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette will retire in June 2022 after seven years with the school. (Colette Pierce Burnette/Facebook)

Huston-Tillotson University President and CEO Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette has been named the 2021 Austinite of the Year by the Austin Chamber of Commerce for her work expanding the school and city leadership.


As the highest annual honor the Chamber awards, Burnette will be recognized at a March 9 “Cheers to the Year” event. The awardee is chosen by the board chair and the president and CEO of the Austin Chamber.

“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.”

As she heads into retirement later this year, Burnette is credited with increasing funding for Huston-Tillotson University—a private historically Black university—by more than 55%. Burnette was also able to tackle some of the items on the deferred maintenance list, including remodeling the King-Seabrook Chapel and erecting the first new building on campus since 1974.

Additionally, Burnette is responsible for some partnerships with major companies: Apple partnered with HTU for its African American Male Teacher Initiative and created a manufacturing engineering curriculum and a career progression internship alongside Tesla.

“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,” Burnette said. “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’s activism stretches far beyond the university—the HTU president has also served as a co-chair for the Mayor’s Task Force on Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequities, chair for the Central Texas Collective for Racial Equity and treasurer for the Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas.

Burnette continues to serve on boards and committees for the Greater Austin Area Black Chamber, North American Association of Methodist Schools, Austin Community Foundation, IDEA Schools, Frontier Bank, Greater Austin Urban League , Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas Advisory Council, Urban Roots Advisory Council and Waterloo Greenway Board.

“Throughout (Burnette’s) 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,” Austin Chamber president and CEO Laura Huffman said. “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.”

The celebration will take place at the Austin Marriott Downtown on March 9, starting at 4:30 p.m. General admission will cost $125 per ticket.

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