Welcome to


Thought-provoking conversations exploring issues affecting our communal well-being through a nonprofit lens.​ Moderated by Barry Silverberg, Director, Nonprofit Austin.

The Role of Historically Black Colleges in Austin

In this episode of The Black Experience in Austin, we will talk with Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette, Huston-Tillotson University’s sixth President and CEO about The Impact of Huston-Tillotson University on Austin – its historic role, current offerings, future plans and its pivotal role in the struggle for quality education and racial equity. We will explore Dr. Burnette’s journey to her current role and her lessons learned that can be of benefit to all of us.

Huston–Tillotson University is a private historically black university in Austin established in 1875 when one of its two predecessors, Tillotson Collegiate and Normal Institute opened as the very first institution of higher learning in Austin. The next year Samuel Huston College opened. They merged in 1952 to form Huston-Tillotson College, which expanded to be Huston-Tillotson University (TTU) in 2005. Per its website, TTU remains primarily a black college, although there are no restrictions on race.

TTU is a historically black college and university (HBCU); i.e., an institution of higher education in the United States that were established before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with the intention of primarily serving the African American community.

The University’s vision is “A connected world where diversity of thought matters.” Its mission is to nurture “a legacy of leadership and excellence in education, connecting knowledge, power, passion, and values.


Dr. Burnette, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, joined Huston-Tillotson University as president on July 1, 2015. She served as interim President at Pierce College in Puyallup, Washington, the Vice President for Administration and Chief Financial Officer, Executive Assistant to the President, Vice President for Information Technology and Services and Chief Information Officer at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, Dean of Information Technology at Pierce College in Lakewood, Washington, and Manager of Consulting and Project Management Services at the Washington State Department of Transportation in Olympia, Washington. Colette has combined her IQ, EQ, entrepreneurial spirit and technical knowledge to forge successful careers in engineering, information technology and higher education. Before transitioning into higher education, Dr. Burnette worked as a Computer Analyst at The Washington Post, an Operations Support Engineer at Proctor and Gamble, Director of Information Systems at Neighborhood ReinvestmentCorp., and ran her own computer consulting firm, CompuMent.

Dr. Burnette is a strong proponent of Historically Black Colleges and Universities and civic and community engagement. She currently holds leadership positions in her community as co-chair of the Mayor of Austin’s Task Force on Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequities, Board Chair of Leadership Austin, and Treasurer of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas. She serves on numerous boards and committees including the Greater Austin Area Black Chamber, National Association of Schools, Colleges, and Universities of the United Methodist Church, Greater Austin Urban League, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas Advisory Council, Urban Roots Advisory Council, and Waterloo Greenway Board. Her
many honors include the Ohio State University Outstanding Engineering Alumnus Award, Anti-Defamation League Community Hero Award, Urban Land Institute Visionary Award, Mosaic Award, Girls Empowerment Network Igniting Power in Girls Award, named one of the Ten Most Influential Women in Austin, Administrator of the Year (awarded by the Student Government Association), Distinguished Woman of the Year Award, Diverse Issues in Higher Education’s Top 25 Women in Higher Education, US Army Distinguished Civilian Volunteer Service Medal Award, Thurgood Marshall Foundation Chief Information Officer of the Year Award, Thurgood Marshall Chief Fiscal Officer of the Year Award, Dayton Business Journal Chief Fiscal Officer Awardee, and the National Diversity Council Glass Ceiling Award to name a few. Dr. Burnette is also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and The Links, Inc.

Colette received her high school diploma from John F. Kennedy High School, a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from The Ohio State University and a Master of Science in Administration from Georgia College. She is a graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Management Development Program and received her Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration from University of Pennsylvania.

Colette is married to retired Lieutenant Colonel Daarel Burnette and they have two adult children (Daarel II of Washington, DC and Daana of Los Angeles, CA).

Helpful Links & Resources
Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette

Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette

President & CEO, Huston-Tillotson University

Next Episode


Sign up for our newsletter here to be the first to know when our next season launches!